IFIC Foundation President Kimberly Reed Gives Keynote Address at MidAtlantic Women in Agriculture Annual Conference

(Dover, Del., Feb. 9, 2017)— International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation President Kimberly Reed gave the opening keynote at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference today in Dover, Del., which had nearly 200 attendees from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

Reed’s presentation, “Understanding Our Food: Connecting with Consumers,” focused on the various factors influencing American’s food decisions and insights from the IFIC Foundation’s Food and Health Survey, including sustainability, food safety, nutrition, biotechnology, media influence, and trust.

“It is an immense honor to share important insights with this influential audience of diverse women agriculture leaders from a variety of sectors,” said Reed.

“Agriculture is an important part of our lives in a variety of ways. In addition to providing our food, feed, fuel, and fiber, the U.S. agriculture and agriculture-related industries provided about 10 percent of the U.S. employment and contributed $985 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2014.  Over the years, the IFIC Foundation, a non-profit educational organization with the mission of effectively communicating the science of health, nutrition, and food safety for the public good, has been underscoring the benefits of agriculture, including through collaborations with organizations represented here today.”

The 2017 Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference focused on a variety of topics and speakers, including in the areas of communication, farm finance, marketing, human resources, legal, and production. 

Prepared Remarks of Kimberly A. Reed, President, International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, at the Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Annual Conference

February 9, 2017Dover, Delaware

IFIC Foundation President Kimberly Reed (center) with MidAtlantic Women in Agriculture Conference Chairs (l-r) Jenny Rhodes and Shannon Dill.

Good morning.  Thank you for inviting me to the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference to present on “Understanding Our Food: Connecting with Consumers.”  The theme of your 16th annual conference, “Educate, Engage, Empower,” and your mission, “providing knowledge and resources to women who have a passion for agriculture,” are things that I also embrace professionally and personally. 

It is an honor to be with nearly 200 of you, outstanding women leaders (and a few men) with diverse backgrounds—extension agents, women in agriculture, farm women, financial institution professionals focused on the agriculture sector, government agencies, and the private sector—from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Growing up on a farm in rural West Virginia, I can attest to the power of organizations such as this, and am pleased that you can now add my home state to your roster of states represented here today. 

There is one very special person I want to recognize, Delaware State Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee.  Secretary Kee not only served as an outstanding Secretary for the past eight years, he also currently serves on our International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Board of Trustees as a Public Liaison.  His dedication to agriculture and Extension not only makes a difference here in Delaware, but across our nation and around the world.  Let’s thank him for his service and wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.

My thanks also goes to conference co-chairs Jenny Rhodes and Shannon Dill, Holly Porter, Victoria Corcoran, and your academic partners, including University of Maryland Extension, University of Delaware, Delaware State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. 

Agriculture is an important part of our lives in a variety of ways. In addition to providing our food, feed, fuel, and fiber, the U.S. agriculture and agriculture-related industries provided about 10 percent of the U.S. employment and contributed $985 billion to the U.S. GDP in 2014.  Over the years, the IFIC Foundation, a non-profit educational organization with the mission of effectively communicating the science of health, nutrition, and food safety for the public good, has been underscoring the benefits of agriculture, including through collaborations with organizations represented here today, including Extension.

In 2014, it was an honor for the IFIC Foundation to join in the 100th anniversary celebration of the legislation that established the National Cooperative Extension System through land-grant universities. I will always remember viewing the actual signed copy of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 at the National Archives with Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. After signing the legislation on May 8, 1914, President Wilson noted that the Smith-Lever Act was “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by any government.” Even today, over 100 years later, we know the far-reaching benefits of Extension.

Today, Extension addresses our human, plant, and animal needs at the local grassroots level: 4-H youth development, agriculture, leadership development, natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and community and economic development. I can attest to the power 4-H has made in my life.  After the early passing of my mother when I was 9 years old, my grandmother Avis Reed—”Mommers”—enrolled me, a shy fourth grader, in 4-H.  She made me focus on my 4-H project every day after school.

I was stunned when I won the first place “Food and Nutrition” award for a public demonstration on how to make homemade hot cocoa. The “terrifying” experience of answering the judges’ rapid-fire questions in front of a packed audience on things like hot cocoa’s nutrition content and how long it would keep before going bad taught me not only the importance of being prepared for “outside the box” questions, but also the value of public speaking and connecting with your audience—skills that I have used every day of my professional career, particularly at the IFIC Foundation. I know that many of you have similar 4-H stories, all of which are made possible because of Extension.

Several of you have asked me about the latest happenings in Washington, D.C., that could impact Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture members and stakeholders. Although the IFIC Foundation does not engage in lobbying or politics, we do collaborate with government on a variety topics ranging from consumer insights research to non-communicable disease prevention initiatives to science-based communications focused on dietary guidance, feeding our planet, and food safety concerns.

President Trump recently nominated the former Governor of Georgia, veterinarian, and agribusiness professional Sonny Perdue to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The President stated: “From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.” Gov. Perdue’s confirmation hearing should take place this month before the Senate Agriculture Committee.  

President Trump also nominated Steven Mnuchin to become the secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Mr. Mnuchin highlighted farmers in his recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee:

“We heard the concerns of people and small businesses burdened by high taxes. These were people who were just trying to make ends meet. In my meetings with you over the last month, you shared with me the concerns of your constituents, like farmers who worry about the death tax wiping out family farms, or workers who are nervous about whether their retirement accounts will be safe. One of the greatest reasons I was drawn to President-elect Trump’s campaign was that it was predicated on a commitment to stimulating prosperity for Americans of all backgrounds – whether they live in inner-city Detroit, or rural North Carolina, or the coal country of Ohio and West Virginia, or any place in between.  I share the president-elect’s goal to economically empower every citizen. We will not rest in our quest until it is a reality.”

The Senate likely could vote on his confirmation by the end of the week.  Mr. Mnuchin’s testimony reflects the power that each of you—individually and through your elected officials—has to make your issues be heard and addressed.

Once the Cabinet is confirmed, you will see key positions within each department start to be announced. Typically, it takes a good six to 10 months for all of the 4,000 appointed positions across the government to be filled.

Now I would like to highlight some key findings from our most recent Food and Health Survey. This survey, which is based on responses from 1,000+ consumers representative of the U.S. population, marks the 11th edition of an ongoing investigation into the beliefs and behaviors of Americans and delves deeply into issues of health and diet, food components, food production, sustainability, and food safety. Over the years, the survey results have uncovered important insights and trends for health professionals, government officials, educators, and others who seek to understand and improve the health of Americans. Our most recent survey continues this tradition, with a special focus on understanding the complex array of factors that influence food decisions in the United States. 

  • Headlines are changing public perception.  Nearly a third of Americans have changed their mind about nutrition issues in the past year.  News articles are a top driver of this change.

  • Americans are hungry for more information about nutrition and the food system.  Nearly half of Americans have read a book or watched a documentary about the food system in the past year.  About half of those Americans have changed their food purchases as a result.

  • Taste continues to have the greatest impact on the decision to buy foods and beverages, followed by price, healthfulness, convenience, and sustainability.

  • More Americans are trying to consume several dietary nutrients and components, with protein, fiber, and whole grains topping the list.

  • Registered Dietitians, personal healthcare professionals, and U.S. government agencies are the top three most trusted sources for types of food eaten and food safety.

  • Two-thirds of Americans are confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply.  Foodborne illness from bacteria, chemicals in food, and pesticides are the most important food safety issues for Americans.  People are more likely to trust the safety of food that is locally produced or from a local restaurant.

  • Seven in ten think it is important that the food products are produced in a sustainable way.  Yet, people are split on whether they would pay more for food and beverage products that are produced sustainably.  Four in ten find conserving the natural habitat and reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food to be important ways to produce sustainable food.

  • Seven in ten see modern agricultural practices (precision farming, biotechnology, etc.) as having at least a small role in ensuring that all people have access to healthy food.

  • One-third of Americans need more information to make an informed decision of the role of biotechnology.  Half agree that modern agriculture produces nutritious foods, safe foods, and high-quality foods.  One in six (16%) wish to see more information on labels, and 20% of subgroup indicates that “GMO” labeling is one of their top concerns.  There is a diversity of opinions about the use of biotechnology to produce food products.

You can find the full Survey results and data tables on our website: www.foodinsight.org

For those of you who are communicating with the public and stakeholders, I would like to recommend two IFIC Foundation resources: Food Safety: A Communicator’s Guide to Improving Understanding and Food Biotechnology: A Communicators Guide to Improving Understanding.  Both were made possible through the generous support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service and are available for free download on the IFIC Foundation website in English and several other languages, as agriculture is a local, regional, national, and global issue.  . 

I want to underscore the importance for you to engage in social media, as it is a necessary tool to improve public understanding.  As such, the IFIC Foundation invites you to join our Food Advocates Communicating Through Science (FACTS) Network – a global grassroots network – and our other social media platforms so that you are part of a science-based community of 100,000+.  Go to www.foodinsight.org for details.

In closing, thank you for inviting me today, which is the perfect way for me to conclude my seven and one-half years with the IFIC Foundation.  Tomorrow is my last day at the IFIC Foundation.  I am excited for the next chapter of my life and will be committed to issues discussed here today in my future professional and personal endeavors.

As we all go forth, I believe the 4-H Pledge serves as a wonderful reminder to all of us: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”  Thank you for your commitment to Women in Agriculture, and best wishes.

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The International Food Information Council Foundation is dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good. The IFIC Foundation is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. Visit https://staging.foodinsight.org