Thomas G. Chastain

Even the small and seemingly calm world of seed production is not free from controversial issues.  There’s been a general failure in our society to achieve civil public discourse on matters of science and public policy.  Winning the day at all costs trumps development of meaningful solutions to vexing problems.  Unfortunately, winning the war of words is too often of paramount importance to activists and advocates and so truth and its scientific basis is often sacrificed in the cause of victory.

Perennial ryegrass spikelet (T.G. Chastain photo)

Production of sugarbeet seed and canola in the Willamette Valley are two recent issues that have garnered attention of the public and much heated debate conducted in the pages of the media and among the parties’ legal counsel.  The long fight over open-field burning in grass seed crops was also bitter and hard fought, and while some may say that the grass seed industry lost that battle, there was good science at the base of the public policy decisions that led to the current administrative rules governing the practice in Oregon.   Some species of grass seed crops can be grown without fire-based residue management but others cannot be economically produced without burning.

There is a better way to achieve the desired results than the needless wars that have been waged by advocates and activists on both sides of these controversies.  Policy makers and the public need to let science be the central guiding principle in the decision-making process.

Scientists need to understand that they must adhere to the science first, last, and always approach to their involvement.  There are folks that are willing to interpret the science in a way that conforms to their world view, but it’s important that scientists not engage in this activity as that’s the realm of the activist and advocate.  The public and their elected and appointed policy makers cannot make reasonably informed decisions without good science being a part of the discussion.  Too often in these controversies science has either been willingly suppressed or the public has not been exposed to a thorough scientific debate of the issue.

All parties must understand that there is no perfect truth.  Waiting for perfect answers to seemingly intractable issues is folly as the known science in an area evolves over time with new discoveries and understanding of how a system works.  The public and policy makers must act on the best science that’s available in the current time frame and make needed adjustments as new scientific developments in the field are made.

Meeting in the middle no longer seems to be an acceptable outcome in our winner take all society and so it should not be surprising to witness this approach to resolving issues in seed production.

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