We don’t do enough on the role of technology in food and in advancing food safety. Just like the overall economy, new technologies in food and food safety are driving down costs and delivering greater efficiencies. I was planning on writing about this even before we lost actor-director Leonard Nimoy last week at the age of 83. The man who, in those first three television seasons of “Star Trek,” made the half-Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock, part of our culture schooled us all in logic and in use of the scientific method to solve problems. Mr. SpockThe methods and devices we first saw introduced many years ago by Mr. Spock on “Star Trek” now seem to be becoming reality (remember the flip-phone?). Science fiction boosters say there is nothing unusual about that, yet for the many of us who are not all that into sci-fi but who were Trekkies, it feels strange. Next to the “Star Trek” transporter, which will finally free us from both traffic jams and airport security lines, the one tool from the starship Enterprise that we all could use is, of course, the tricorder. That is the hand-held device that scans, analyzes, and records any substance. It is called a tricorder because it has three primary functions: geological, meteorological and biological. “Star Trek” tricorders came in standard, medical, and engineering models. Science fiction? Maybe not. Ten teams are competing from around the globe right now for the $10-million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, with the goal of making Mr. Spock’s 23rd-century technology available now in the 21st century. The competition has already inspired a device called the Scanadu Scout, a small round gadget that takes multiple readings with a simple head scan. The XPRIZE is focused on health uses that empower the consumer. One has to wonder how long it will be before there is a hand-held device that will tell us whether those bananas we want to buy are free of any pathogens. In other words, I won’t be buying any foodborne illness when I get my tricorder. How about you? In the meantime, we all need to combat pathogens with the technology available to us now. And technical solutions have solved lots of thorny issues. This past week, we heard U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack advance just such a technical solution to the political dispute over how food labels should treat the presence or absence of ingredients containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “Industry could solve that issue in a heartbeat,” Vilsack said. His idea — one that I also endorsed about four years ago — is that food packages would contain bar codes or other symbols that could quickly and easily be read by smartphones, which would then spit out ingredient and process information, including GMO info. It’s not a tricorder, but it would be an effective interim step accommodating everyone with real needs. However, it’s not industry that’s in the way. It’s the anti-GMO activists who responded to Vilsack’s idea by saying that most consumers don’t have smartphones or don’t know about this scanning business. What I worry about is when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says such an obvious technical solution is “not currently under discussion.” If the agency in charge of food labels means to say that it’s not going to happen anytime soon, I’d understand. If it means FDA is not thinking about how to use new technologies, I’d be concerned. Naturally the food manufacturers are thinking about it. Industry adopts new technologies or it dies. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for government. Vilsack was correct in saying the food industry could solve the issue, but he should have gone on to say that only the industry can do it because government cannot, or will not. The effective use of technology is the only way to be cost-effective while truly filling consumer demands for information about the food they eat, now and in the future. Consumer interests always change, and the demands of tomorrow are unknown today, but they, too, can be accommodated if we deploy the right information technology. Vilsack, who might well be the most influential Secretary of Agriculture we’ve had in 50 years, should engage industry on this one and make it part of his legacy. A technological solution works for everybody. Remember what Mr. Spock said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”