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Fight Fear with Science: Training Next Generation Food Scientists to Communicate New Technologies to a Modern and Distrusting Public


Discussion of advances in food technology often elicit 'not in my food!' knee jerk reactions from the consuming public. As recent failures of new technologies have demonstrated, once consumer attitudes about risk have established, they are nearly impossible to change. The lightening pace with which the media ecosystem is presently evolving6-9 changes the means by which consumers learn and establish risk perceptions about new food technologies. Gaining public trust of emerging food technologies therefore begins with proactive, effective science communication (SciComm) by the researcher. Indeed, next generation food technologies enable advances in improving the safety, quality, and security of our food supply. Yet, media misinformation combined with the inability of most scientists to effectively communicate their science to a broad audience has resulted in a widespread public distrust of the food industry which prevents acceptance and adoption of new technologies. The overall goal of this National Needs Fellowship (NNF) Program is to improve public understanding of emerging food technologies by training food scientists to not only become experts in their specific field but also to become expert science communicators, capable of communicating their research to scientific peers, media, and the consuming public alike. Objectives to meet program goals include 1) development of a specially designed transdisciplinary curriculum that integrates SciComm coursework with food science competencies, 2) mandatory involvement in experiential training SciComm opportunities, and 3) recruitment and retention of exceptional students of underrepresented populations. This program addresses the TESA of Food Science, Human Sciences, and Human Nutrition, in the discipline of Food Science/Technology/Manufacturing/Safety (Code F). Engagement with the Cornell Food Science Department's advisory council and industry partnership program, leadership in STEM outreach, and establishment of mentoring relationships with science communicators are among the plans to accomplish project goals within the five-year project. Training excellent graduate level Food Scientists to effectively communicate with the modern public throughout their careers in academia, industry, or government has high relevance to NIFA goals as outlined in the strategic plan to "advance agricultural solve societal challenges", specifically integrating and addressing the "Science" and "Communication" goals of the REE Action Plan to both "catalyze exemplary and relevant research, education, and extension programs" and "advance America's global preeminence in food and agricultural sciences". Importantly, by establishing a formal Food SciComm program, this award's impact extends beyond the 3 supported Fellows: we target integrating an additional 10 Masters/PhD level graduate students in the experiential activities during the project term, and will continue engaging graduate students in the established Food SciComm program beyond the term of the award. Filling the pipeline with exceptional M.S. and Ph.D. Food Scientists who are expert science communicators will have significant national impact by overcoming fundamental limitations in improving public understanding and acceptance of new technologies which seek to improve food quality, safety, and security.

Goddard, Julie
Cornell University
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