What I Learned At World Food Prize Symposium

Iowa Farm Scene

Hungry people don't worry about GMOs.

Published on: October 28, 2013

The three 2013 World Food Prize Laureates—recognized as pioneers of agricultural biotechnology—on October 18 addressed a crowd of over 1,000 people at the annual World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, urging the world to accept biotechnology to help feed the growing population.

Over 1,500 people came to the World Food Prize International symposium October 16-18 in Des Moines from over 70 foreign countries. They listened to speakers and panel discussions of experts discuss agricultural and food policy issues related to solving the world's hunger problems. One of the topics discussed was genetically modified organisms or GMOs. That is, genes of a different species put into crops, using biotechnology methods, to make crops resistant to insects, diseases and herbicides; or to make crops drought tolerant. The purpose of GMO crops is to improve yields and produce food for a hungry world.

WORLD FOOD PRIZE LAUREATES: From left in photo--Robert Fraley, Mary-Dell Chilton and Marc Van Montagu answered questions at a press conference at the 2013 World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines. They also took part in a panel discussion and were presented the prestigious award at a ceremony at the Iowa Capitol.
WORLD FOOD PRIZE LAUREATES: From left in photo--Robert Fraley, Mary-Dell Chilton and Marc Van Montagu answered questions at a press conference at the 2013 World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines. They also took part in a panel discussion and were presented the prestigious award at a ceremony at the Iowa Capitol.

Outside on the street there were a half-dozen protestors carrying signs that said biotech companies exaggerate the ability of biotechnology to feed hungry people. And biotech crops are poisoning our food and the environment. And biotech seeds support corporate agriculture and not small-holder farmers.

A starving child doesn't care if the food has been grown organically or is a GMO

I didn't attend the entire symposium, but I did listen to several sessions and interviewed several speakers for an article in Wallaces Farmer. A number of scientists pointed out that GMO crops and food products have been in use for nearly 20 years now and there have been no documented health problems. I came away with this thought: Hungry people don't worry about GMOs. And a starving child doesn't care if the food he/she needs has been grown organically or is a GMO.

This year's winners of the $250,000 prize are Dr. Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, and Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton and Dr. Robert Fraley of the United States. Von Montagu is founder and chairman of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach in Ghent, Belgium; Chilton is a distinguished science fellow and a founder of Syngenta Biotechnology. Fraley is executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto. The three laureates worked independently on research leading to biotech crops, but also collaborated with each other on occasion.