Debate@TheWaite: Agriculture contributes more to society than Medicine

RoseworthyThe cultivation and domestication of plants and animals for human food in ancient times led to the development of civilisations and ultimately modern society. These days, however, agriculture and the science behind it is apparently seen as less important than other human endeavours, in particular medicine (and medical research).

The Australian health care and social assistance industry is the largest employing sector in the country, providing work to 1.3 million people. In 2010, there were more than 10 times the number of graduates from health-related degrees than there were from agricultural and environmental sciences. It is also incredibly costly to support this sector, but these resources are needed to care for our aging population. Thanks largely to medical advances, our life expectancy is approximately 30 years longer than it was a century ago, but this also brings a raft of challenges with it.

Hippocrates, considered the ‘father’ of medicine, understood the importance of food and diet in maintaining good health, and surely, prevention is better than cure? In fact, agricultural science has pioneered many essential medical techniques – even the discovery of vaccination relied on dairy farming.

Agriculture contributes enormously to our GDP/export earnings, provides essential food and fibre, manages vast areas of our landscape and has helped shape our national identity. Despite this, no agriculturalists have ever been named ‘Australian of the Year’ in the 54 years since that award was established, compared to 10 people who worked in health/medical research (and no less than 14 sports people). Agriculture wasn’t mentioned in the National Research Priorities between 2002 and 2013, while health and medical research was front and centre.

If, as it seems, doctors are more esteemed and rewarded in our society than farmers, why do we feel less appreciative towards those who provide the daily food that keeps us alive and healthy than we do towards medical practitioners who we only see when we feel bad? Given that both farmers and doctors help us thrive, why do we attribute more status to one than the other?

Isn’t it time that agriculture, its products and those working within the sector, got the recognition, esteem and priority they deserve? Or does agriculture rightly deserve a smaller share of the limelight than medicine?

In this exciting and important debate, moderated by Mr Ian Doyle, six experts in two teams will argue for your vote.

For the affirmative team …

  • Dr Kim Ritman, Chief Scientist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences
  • Professor Bob Seamark,  Flinders University and The Robinson Institute
  • Associate Professor Sven Anders, Resource Economics & Environmental Sociology
    The University of Alberta

For the negative team …

  • Associate Professor Mark Hutchinson, Discipline of Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Steve Wesselingh,  Executive Director, SA Health & Medical Research Institute
  • Dr Jennie Louise, School of Population Health, The University of Adelaide

DATE: Thursday 27 March 2014
TIME: 6.00pm – 8.30pm
PLACE: Lirra Lirra (Aroma Café), McLeod House,
Waite Road, Urrbrae
Finger food and cash bar provided
BOOKINGS: Register online at

The event will be tweeted live via @waiteresearch and podcasts of the Debate will be available via our debate webpage or via the Harvest radio program webpage.


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