The winners of the 2013 World Food Prize have been announced, and one of the laureates appears as a less than expected choice. This Wednesday at the U.S. State Department, Dr. Marc Van Montagu, Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, and Dr. Robert T. Fraley were all granted the distinguished honor “for their independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing, and applying modern agricultural biotechnology.” And while the last name may not seem controversial at first to many, the company Dr. Fraley works for explains the hype: Monsanto.
At this point, Monsanto’s name alone carries a notorious reputation, even with those who don’t closely follow agriculture. Last month, “March Against Monsanto” protests spanned 436 cities across the globe. According to the founder of the movement, Tami Canal, the company, which provides genetically engineered seeds to farmers, is “poisoning our children [and] poisoning our planet.”
And according to The New York Times, “the mastermind behind Monsanto’s big move into genetically modified crops” is none other than the recent award winner, Fraley. So, with all the controversy surrounding him, why did he receive such a notable honor?
Created in 1986, The World Food Prize is an international award, which recognizes those who significantly improve the “quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.” Genetically engineered seeds, such as the ones Monsanto produces, increase crop yields (quantity and availability), their questionable effects on health and the environment (quality) are enough to spark riots, as mentioned above.
While the World Food Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the food world, it is also worth noting that the foundation has received criticism for its relationships with major agriculture companies. Of the World Food Prize’s many sponsors, Monsanto is at the top of the list.