The World Food Prize for 2013 was presented October 17 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines to three researchers who've played key roles in developing genetically modified crops. The music and history-filled ceremony highlighted the biggest and most controversial week in the 27-year history of the annual prize.
The three people who share the $250,000 prize this year are Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, Mary-Dell Chilton of the United States and Robert Fraley of the United States. Van Montagu is founder and chairman of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach in Ghent, Belgium. Chilton is a distinguished science fellow and founder of Syngenta Biotechnology. Fraley is executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto in St. Louis, Mo.
This year's World Food Prize laureates called on the world to embrace the seeds they helped develop, despite the controversy and criticism that threatens to limit the future of biotech crops. Upon receiving the award at the ceremony, Chilton said, "My hope is this will put to rest the misguided opposition to biotechnology developed crops." She called genetically modified organisms a "wonderful tool" in the fight against world hunger.
Laureates say genetically modified seeds are needed to help feed a hungry world
Montagu said the World Food Prize recognizes these achievements as extremely precious for society. To him, this emphasizes the importance of GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism, technology as a contribution toward sustainable food production. He hopes this recognition will pave the way for Europe to embrace the benefits of the technology, an essential condition for global acceptance of transgenic plants.
Fraley emphasized the necessity of biotech seed in helping address "the greatest challenge the world faces" -- feeding a world population that will grow by one-third by 2050. However, he noted that Monsanto and the biotech industry have struggled to explain the importance and safety of biotech crops. He called on the public universities and nonprofits to help change that perception. "I can promise that my company will do what it takes. We'll collaborate and share," said Fraley.