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, in Des Moines, Iowa. This year's recipient, Dr. Kevin Folta, gave a memorable keynote address: Unveiling Our Halo--Building Trust with a Concerned Consumer.
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.
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."
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 mission 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 the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and for the fourth year in a row, the award was sponsored by DuPont.
The CAST website (www.cast-science.org) will soon feature a video of Folta's presentation and updated information about the award, including nomination forms for the 2017 Borlaug CAST Communication Award.