The World Food Prize is an international award that recognizes individuals who have “advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” This year the prize was awarded to three individuals in the biotechnology industry, a move that enraged environmental groups and others opposed to factory farming.
“Rather than encouraging sustainable farming and self-sufficiency in impoverished communities as a way to alleviate poverty and malnutrition, the World Food Prize has been ‘won’ by a profiteering, biotech, seed-and-chemical monopolist that’s the freakish opposite of sustainability,” former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower wrote.
Two of the recipients hold prominent positions at big name biotech companies: Syngenta Biotechnology and Monsanto. Syngenta recently joined agrochemical company Bayer in opposing the European Union’s ban on a bee-killing pesticide. In another interesting (but not surprising) twist, both Monsanto and Syngenta Biotechnology are donors to The World Food Prize Foundation.
Despite an obvious conflict of interest, the work of the three World Food Prize recipients is very much in line with the values of WFP’s founder, Norman Borlaug, who was a big advocate of biotechnology as a means to increase crop production. Robert Fraley, one of the recipients and chief technology officer at Monsanto, genetically engineered the first herbicide-resistant soybean in 1996, a feat the WFP sees as an advance in the field of agriculture.
But for people opposed to chemically-saturated factory farming, the award raises questions about the role of biotechnology in food security and the presence of GMOs in the global food supply.
An online petition was started to encourage WFP to re-think who it named as winners, as it would “sully the World Food Prize.”
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Image: Lily Rothrock