October 12, 2016…Des Moines, Iowa: For the seventh year in a row, the winner of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award (BCCA) was honored at a World Food Prize side event, and this year’s recipient—Dr. Kevin Folta—gave a memorable keynote address: .
As the Chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Folta conducts research, educates students, and communicates important concepts about science and the public. With a wide following on social media, he participates actively in the public forum about a variety of topics related to agricultural biotechnology. His curriculum vitae is filled with impressive publications, presentations, and awards—including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Award for undergraduate mentoring, and the University of Florida Research Foundation Award.
Recipients of CAST’s annual award are science/ag experts who demonstrate an ability to communicate through written material, public presentations, and various forms of media. Folta’s blog (Illumination) covers recent events at the interface between society and science, and his weekly podcast (Talking Biotech) discusses genetic improvements in agriculture and medicine. He has designed a communication workshop that teaches scientists how to properly engage a skeptical public. According to Dr. Jack Payne of the University of Florida, “Kevin Folta has done as much as anyone in the past decade to help the public understand the biotechnology behind its food.” And many agree with Julie Borlaug Larson’s observation: “He has not shied away from controversial subjects and has often been the number one target of the anti-science movement on behalf of all of us who support biotechnology.”
After a breakfast sponsored by DuPont, the session began with short remarks by CAST Executive Vice President Kent Schescke and DuPont Pioneer’s Vice President of Research and Development Neal Gutterson. Julie Borlaug Larson of the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture spoke about Folta’s communication abilities. “My grandfather would choose Kevin for the award,” she said. Then Crispin Taylor—Executive Director of the American Society of Plant Biologists—introduced the award recipient.
Dr. Folta’s presentation centered on the challenges scientists and the agricultural community have when working with a concerned public. He thinks scientists must explain the evidence-based risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology, and that can be tough to do in an age of misinformation. “Lead with your ethics—facts by themselves won’t work,” said Folta. “We need to listen, explain, and gain their trust by developing a shared understanding.”
The honor is presented annually by CAST, and for the fourth year in a row, the award was sponsored by DuPont. Attendees included scientists, journalists, farmers from around the world, and dignitaries such as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and the President of the World Food Prize, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn. Two previous BCCA winners also joined the gathering—2015 recipient Channapatna Prakash, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tuskegee University, and 2010 winner Akin Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.
Following Folta’s speech, Sally Rockey—Executive Director, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research—spoke about Feeding Innovation to Feed the World: Benefits of Public-Private Partnerships. Rockey focused on the boundless opportunities for scientific innovation and advancement that can be unlocked when the public and private sectors cooperate. “Ag is the place to be,” said Rockey.
Todd Peterson—a business development expert with SUSTAIN, a Land O’ Lakes company—used his expertise as the Chair of CAST’s Ag Innovation Series to emphasize the importance of technology as he introduced the lead author for the series keynote paper, Technologies on the Shelf. Amit Dhingra—Associate Professor of Genomics and Biotechnology at Washington State University—spoke about The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050: Technologies on the Shelf. Dhingra maintains that we have many useful biotech crops that are sitting on the shelf. He gave a preview of the forthcoming CAST paper that will examine known agricultural and food technologies that are underutilized or not used at all.
**Note–Panel members in photo, left to right: Neal Gutterson, Sally Rockey, Kevin Folta, Amit Dhingra, and Todd Peterson.
Folta and Gutterson then joined the panel discussion—a session moderated by Peterson that included expert insights and a Q&A with the audience. All seemed to agree that communication is the key, and those in the ag/science community need to actively and thoughtfully join the conversation.
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