DES MOINES, Iowa – Founded in 1986 by Nobel Peace Prize winner and expert in plant pathology and genetics, Norman Borlaug, the World Food Prize is an international award that recognizes the achievements of individuals improving the quality, quantity or availability of food worldwide. Inspired by Borlaug’s work in the field of biotechnology, the World Food Prize targets those who use innovative techniques to increase global food supply.
This year’s winners were awarded $250,000 on June 19 for their achievements in founding, developing and applying modern agricultural biotechnology. Their discoveries have led to the development of a host of genetically enhanced crops, which are grown by more than 17 million farmers around the world.
The 2013 World Food Prize’s best known winner is Dr. Robert Fraley, who currently serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, an American multinational chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation. Born in 1953 in a small farming community in central Illinois, Fraley spent his academic career studying microbiology, biochemistry and biophysics. He started working for Monsanto in 1981 as a research specialist, leading a prominent plant molecular biology group.
Fraley and his team worked to produce elaborate plant transformations, which would allow farmers across the globe to access genetically modified seeds that were resistant to insect and weed pests, but tolerant to changes in climate. In 1996, Fraley introduced a crop of genetically modified soybeans that were resistant to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to safely spray their entire fields with Roundup. Fraley, through Monsanto, has become a dominant force in the global agriculture market, producing a large portion of the world’s seed supply using genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Fellow World Food Prize winner Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton is the founder of Syngenta, a Swiss chemical company that specializes in the field of biotechnology and genomic research, selling seeds and pesticides in the commercial agricultural market. This Swiss specialized chemical company operates in the field of biotechnology and genomic research, selling seeds and pesticides in the commercial agricultural market. Born in 1939 in Indianapolis, Chilton is a pioneer of modern plant biotechnology. As a faculty member of the University of Washington in the late 1970s, Chilton led a groundbreaking research study that produced the first transgenic plants. Currently, she is a Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta.
The final winner of the 2013 World Food Prize, Dr. Marc Van Montagu, serves as the founder and Chairman of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach in Ghent, Belgium. In collaboration with Chilton’s University of Washington microbiology team, Van Montagu and fellow researcher Jeff Schell became the first to stably transfer foreign genes into plants in 1974. This landmark discovery provided the foundation for the current plant biotechnology sector.
Among the celebration, however, controversy has also surrounded this year’s World Food Prize. Critics have denounced the Prize for its single-minded focus on biotechnology and its promotion of genetically modified products. More can be learned about the Prize and the controversy surrounding it here.
– Tara Young
Sources: World Food Prize, Reuters, PR Newswire
Photo: Des Moines Register