“Kevin Folta has done as much as anyone in the past decade to help the public understand the biotechnology behind its food,” Dr. Jack Payne of the University of Florida said. For his dedication to communicating the important concepts of science, Dr. Folta was awarded this year’s Borlaug CAST Communication Award at a side event of the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogues held in Des Moines, Iowa.
Folta, chair of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences, participates actively in the public forum about a variety of topics related to agricultural biotechnology. 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.
"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," added Julie Borlaug Larson, granddaughter of the late Green Revolution scientist Norman Borlaug. She also heads up the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture.
Recipients of the annual Council for Agricultural Science & Technology (CAST) award are science/agriculture experts who demonstrate an ability to communicate through written material, public presentations and various forms of media.
At the side event, Folta gave a presentation centered on the challenges scientists and the agricultural community face when working with a concerned public. He thinks scientists must explain the evidence-based risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology, which can be tough to do in an age of misinformation.
"Lead with your ethics; facts by themselves won't work," Folta said. "We need to listen, explain and gain (the public's) trust by developing a shared understanding."
Following Folta's speech, Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, spoke about "Feeding Innovation to Feed the World: Benefits of Public-Private Partnerships," focusing 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," Rockey said.
Todd Peterson, a business development expert with SUSTAIN, a Land O' Lakes company, used his expertise as chair of the CAST Ag Innovation Series to emphasize the importance of technology when 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 there are many useful biotech crops just 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.