Kevin Folta says scientists must explain to consumers the evidence-based risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology--and that mission can be tough to do in an age of misinformation.
They are messages he focuses on as Chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. There, Folta conducts research, educates students, and communicates important concepts about science and the public.
Folta's work resulted in him being named the winner of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award (BCCA) for 2016. Folta was honored during a World Food Prize side event recently, in Des Moines, Iowa. There, Folta gave a keynote address on Unveiling Our Halo--Building Trust with a Concerned Consumer.
Folta's presentation centered on the challenges scientists and the agricultural community have when working with a concerned public.
"Lead with your ethics--facts by themselves won't work," says Folta, chair of the . "We need to listen, explain, and gain their trust by developing a shared understanding."
With a wide following on social media, Folta 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 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."
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.