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Using Emerging Media at USDA to Improve Food Safety

Using social media and other new digital technologies to reach the public with critical food safety messages is a key mandate of the year-old President’s Food Safety Working Group. As demonstrated at a panel at USDA’s Food Safety Education Conference in Atlanta, the government is responding vigorously to the charge.
Representatives of the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA spoke about how emerging digital and social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs are being used to educate the public about food safety.

“Using social media helps us reach many more people than we can using only conventional channels,” USDA Director of New Media Amanda Eamich told attendees at a panel titled “Using Social Media.” “Social media lets us multiply our reach.”

The panelists described social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a public “conversation” among users. The government can better serve the public by listening to and participating in that conversation, Eamich said. USDA uses the Twitter profile @usdafoodsafety to send recall and food safety messages to more than 25,000 followers.

In a recent campaign, USDA sent out Tweets during the run-up to the Super Bowl about preparing buffet and party food safely. By using a tag followed by Twitterers discussing the Super Bowl, “We were able to remind people to cook their burgers to 160 degrees,  as part of their existing conversations about the game,” she said.

Part of the mandate of the Food Safety Working Group was to update www.foodsafety.gov into a “one-stop shop” for consumer information on food safety. The three agencies have collaborated to create a vibrant consumer-friendly site that employs Twitter and a blog.

The panel listed a wide variety of digital technologies now being used to distribute food safety messages to diverse audiences:

  • “e-cards”—colorful e-mail greetings that include a variety of public health messages
  • Facebook pages
  • YouTube videos
  • podcasts
  • Web pages optimized for mobile phones
  • Text messaging services and e-mail alerts
  • Widgets that allow people to get live product recall information sent directly to their desktops or to their own web pages
  • Click here for links to all USDA new media. You can follow @USDAgov on Twitter for all Department information. USDA’s food safety Twitter feed is @usdafoodsafety.

    By Craig Stoltz, Web Director, Food Safety and Inspection Service

    Deputy Secretary Merrigan Joins Rep. Holt and NJ Farmers on Capitol Hill

    Today Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan joined New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt and dozens of farmers from across central New Jersey as part of the Congressman’s Agriculture and Nutrition Policy Day.  The Deputy Secretary spoke to a diverse group of farmers about USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative and the Department’s newest efforts to promote farm to school programs across the country.  After an informative presentation from the OneTray foundation, Congressman Holt kicked off the day’s activities with an enthusiastic welcome, acknowledging the real stars of the show, the men and women in the audience who work the land every day. Read more »

    At Food Safety Conference, Safe School Lunches Named a Top Priority

    USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Janey Thornton spoke to conference attendees at the Food Safety Education Conference in Atlanta. She described the Department’s mission to serve safe and nutritious school meals and snacks to the more than 11 million children who eat school breakfast every day and over 31 million eat school lunch.

    “The fact that so many lives are touched by our programs is a constant reminder that we must continue to emphasize food safety,” said Thornton. Read more »

    USDA Community Roundtables on Nutrition Assistance Launched in South Texas

    On March 19, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Deputy Administrator Lisa Pino traveled to Texas to meet with local leaders and members of the Rio Grande Valley community to talk about how to solve hunger issues in the area. FNS Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig and USDA Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Max Finberg also took part in the discussions.

    The Rio Grande Valley meetings were the first in a series of “Community Roundtables” USDA will host in cities across the country. The roundtables are a key component of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

    The first roundtable focused on the community at large.  A second roundtable was held later that day with faith-based communities at the Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle-National Shrine.

    Both roundtables were a success.  FNS was able to solicit helpful feedback regarding how it can better work with the Rio Grande community to ensure eligible people participate in nutritional assistance programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP currently provides food assistance to 39 million low-income people across the country and is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program.

    The 2000 census showed that 35 percent of the Rio Grande Valley population lived below the federal poverty level compared to 12 percent nationally.

    South West Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig (holding the podium) is addressing 50 community leaders, anti-hunger advocates, faith-based groups, and food bank to discuss ways to ending childhood hunger by finding ways to increase participation in our programs.
    South West Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig (holding the podium) is addressing 50 community leaders, anti-hunger advocates, faith-based groups, and food bank to discuss ways to ending childhood hunger by finding ways to increase participation in our programs

    Rural Development Continues its Long History of Support for Alaska by Funding a Recovery Act Water Project

    Most Americans reading this blog have probably heard of Talkeetna, Alaska. Not only is it the primary air access point for climbers planning to scale Mount McKinley (Denali) but it is also a tourist stop on the Alaska Railroad, especially in the summer.

    Talkeetna is unincorporated, but hundreds of Alaskans call it home and live there year-round. It has all the amenities you would expect in a small town, including a school, library, post office and a clinic. It also has community water and sewer service.

    USDA Rural Development has long been a partner in Talkeetna’s development. We helped to fund the clinic, and the new home for KTNA public radio. We have also funded a system that uses water-based plant life to clean waste water before it enters the Susitna River.

    The Talkeetna, Alaska well house will soon get a new filtration system thanks to  USDA funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One significant remaining issue for the community is the quality of Talkeetna’s drinking water. Much of the water used in Talkeetna comes from twin 160 foot community wells. The system, built over 20 years ago has received water quality violation notices from the State of Alaska.

    Earlier this month, it was announced that, using funds provided by Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, USDA Rural Development would provide the community with a $714,500 grant and a $48,000 loan to purchase a water treatment module. The new module, when installed, will remove impurities from the water supply and improve the overall quality of the water being supplied to area homes and businesses. It will leverage an additional $500,000 in investment.

    On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Vilsack and USDA, I am proud that Rural Development is able to help fund this project with Recovery Act dollars provided through Congress. The new module will ensure that visitors to Talkeetna, and the Alaskans who live there, will have quality, safe drinking water.

    Submitted by Jim Nordlund USDA Rural Development State Director-Alaska

    Bringing Biotechnology to the Developing World

    This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

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    Two weeks ago, I led the U.S. delegation to Mexico for the FAO International Biotechnology Conference, where officials from across the world gathered to address the potential of agricultural biotechnologies for improving the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries.  These “smallholders” constitute 75 percent of the world’s poor, and face a disproportionate share of the enormous pressures facing agricultural production systems.

    The FAO warns that the combined effects of population growth, strong income growth, and urbanization will require a doubling of food production by 2050. That doubling of production will need to occur despite climate disruptions, critical water shortages in some parts of the globe, increased salinity of soil, the ever present pressure of pests and pathogens, and the necessity to reduce the energy and environmental footprints of agriculture practices.  Smallholders will need help to meet these challenges.

    Conference delegates from developing countries acknowledged that biotechnology is a crucial tool and opportunity for alleviating hunger and poverty, while also spurring economic development and mitigating climate change.  However, the various applications of agricultural biotechnologies are not widely accessible for use in many developing countries, and have not yet substantially benefited small farmers and producers.  Three key elements are necessary to make agricultural biotechnology accessible to the developing world: increased investments, international cooperation, and effective and enabling national policies and regulatory frameworks.

    The conference identified ways the United States and other nations can encourage developed and developing countries to support appropriate use of agricultural biotechnologies for improving food security and enhancing sustainable agriculture, especially in the context of growing climatic changes and a growing human population.  This includes:

    • Encourage increased commitment by governments to strengthen human and institutional capacities in biotechnologies in national and regional institutions.
    • Improve knowledge sharing and access to and application of biotechnologies.
    • Facilitate the exchange of information among and between scientists and policymakers worldwide.
    • Help scientists gain knowledge and technical expertise through developing new partnerships and exchange opportunities.
    • Develop partnerships and alliances with farmers and farmer organizations, the private sector, international and regional research institutions, foundations and other relevant organizations, to facilitate and enhance the coordination of research activities and strengthen mechanisms for dissemination of best practices and technologies.

    President Obama has made global food security, nutrition enhancement, and poverty reduction important  priorities for this Administration.  Building capacity for the use of modern biotechnologies in developing countries, such as marker assisted selection, tissue culture propagation, and genetic engineering, would help meet these goals and solve a growing worldwide problem.

    I believe in USDA’s commitment to solving these global problems while also working toward our goals of sustainable agriculture.  Both high crop yields and safe and sustainable practices are critically important and attainable.  As USDA’s Chief Scientist and director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, I am excited to see agricultural science and technology work in a way that will meet today’s global challenges, but do so in a way that works toward economic, environmental and social sustainability.

    I have every confidence that the women and men in USDA and our partner institutions, who work daily to unlock the secrets of human, plant and animal health, can be equally responsive to the challenge of building a sustainable future for agriculture and forestry that includes access to biotechnology for smallholders and others.

    Roger Beachy

    Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture