Why Did this Monsanto Exec Win $250,000?

Not exactly decided by “the world,” the Iowa-based World Food Prize Foundation has named a Monsanto food scientist as its 2013 recipient.

The award and its $250,000 cash prize went to Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer (and it’s shared with two other scientists, Marc Van Montagu of Belgium and Mary-Dell Chilton of the United States.)

The New York Times‘ Andrew Pollack said that in foodie terms, awarding a Monsanto scientist the prize is like “a commercial blockbuster winning best picture rather than an independent, artsy film.”

Norman E. Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in sustainable agriculture, created the award.

According to the Times, Kenneth M. Quinn, the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, defended the foundation’s choice for picking the biotech giant, saying that advances in crop biotechnology had “met the test of demonstrating it would impact millions of people and enhance their lives.”

“The view of our organization and our committee is that in the face of controversy, you shouldn’t back away from your precepts,” he said. “If you do so, you are diminishing the prize.”

But a truly “world” food prize wouldn’t likely include awarding the highest honor to manufacturers of genetically modified organisms as much of the developed world restricts or bans GMOs altogether. And the award couldn’t come at a worse time for the anti-GMO movement. Concerns over the human health and environmental impact of genetically modified seeds and the necessary companion herbicides and pesticides (like Monsanto’s popular Roundup) are at an all time high. Quinn said the award decision wasn’t influenced by donations.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: The World Food Prize Foundation