Outside of the Iowa State Capitol building, about three dozen anti-biotech activists were protesting, holding posters with anti-GMO messages and handing out information accusing the World Food Prize Foundation of being a shill for corporate agriculture. A truck with an advertisement from the Union of Concerned Scientists circled the Capitol, proclaiming "Monsanto fails at improving agriculture." Two of the protesters were arrested for trying to enter the Capitol where the ceremony was taking place.
Outside the ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol, protestors carried signs advocating against GMO crops
Protesters carrying signs said biotech companies exaggerate the ability of the technology to feed a hungry world. The Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement and other groups said they delivered a petition to the World Food Prize signed by more than 345,000 people opposed to GMOs.
This year's World Food Prize event comes 60 years after the discovery of the DNA double helix, which led to the laureates break-through research 30 years ago. Genetically modified seeds contain DNA that has been changed to express a trait such as resistance to insects, diseases or to a chemical weed killer. Since their commercial introduction in 1996, GMO crops have revolutionized agriculture and are now used in the U.S. and most of South America and Asia. But much of Europe and Africa have blocked the planting and use of GMO crops.
First time in 27-year history of World Food Prize that a current head of state attended
This year marked the first year in the history of the World Food Prize that a sitting head of state attended the World Food Prize events. The President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, helped present the awards to the three 2013 laureates. Grimsson was one of the keynote speakers at this year's Borlaug Dialogue, the three-day symposium sponsored by the World Food Prize. He spoke on climate change and explained Iceland's recent conversion to "clean energy" sources.
The theme of this year's event was sure to attract controversial stands on issues. The theme was: "The Next Borlaug Century: Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility." The World Food Prize was founded by Dr. Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native who was a plant breeder who gained fame as the "Father of the Green Revolution" and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He was born in 1914 and raised on a farm at Cresco, Iowa. He died in 2009 and would have turned 100 last month.
It was Borlaug's idea to establish the World Food Prize. He envisioned the World Food Prize as a Nobel Prize equivalent for food and agriculture, to honor those who fight global hunger and poverty. The series of talks and discussion panels at this year's World Food Prize symposium, or Borlaug Dialogue, attracted a record crowd of more than 1,500 people from 70 countries to attend the week-long event in downtown Des Moines to listen to speakers and take part in discussions.