Science And Values: Agriculture Has Both

By ACSH Staff — Nov 16, 2015
When food is a values issue, it becomes bigger than science.
Dr. Dennis Gonsalves (L) and Hank Campbell (R). Photo Credit: Agricultural journalist Cary Blake of Western Farm Press.

Agriculture is one of very few areas where it's a clear science issue that also has immediate real-world value. Where most science is intangible to the public - people know a fruit fly study or the Higgs boson will be meaningful to their lives some day but they don't expect much now - agriculture is instead able to solve pressing concerns tomorrow. If we let it.

But value and values are separate things. When food is something that no one can opt out of, it becomes a values issue, completely unrelated to the chemical structure of a fertilizer or the precision that goes into genetic modification, and that means people think beyond yield and cost.

One terrific example of a values - food - that was saved by science and so remains a good value was the Hawaiian Papaya. We can say 'was' because science solved a crippling problem. In the 1990s the fruit was at risk of being wiped out, not by man but by nature. The papaya ringspot virus had swept across fields and natural efforts, like crop rotation and legacy breeding techniques, had failed. Chemical solutions like pesticides also did not work. Biology came to the rescue. Professor Dennis Gonsalves and colleagues tackled the issue and in short order had a genetically modified solution in field testing. It got rapid approval, it was quickly rolled out at cost to farmers, and so the industry was saved.

At the Western Plant Health Association meeting, American Council on Science and Health President Hank Campbell talked about the papaya and the values issue that makes public input on science issues important - and how letting personal beliefs trump science would make it almost impossible to save the papaya if the problem occurred in today's activist-driven climate.

Writing at Western Farm Press, Richard Cornett, of the Western Plant Health Association discusses Gonsalves, the transgenic Rainbow papaya that is now still affordable thanks to science, and how making food personal again may bring science acceptance to people otherwise being scared by merchants of doubt in the environmental movement.

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