Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the 2013 World Food Prize laureates. Among the 2013 laureates are Syngenta’s Mary-Dell Chilton and Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, Robert Fraley.
“Big Ag” is no stranger to the World Food Prize. This $250,000 annual award is made possible by its corporate sponsors – namely DuPont, John Deere, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Syngenta. Furthermore, the World Food Prize recognizes individuals that contribute to the spread of technological innovations that fuel the business model of these agribusiness giants.
Created by Norman Bourlag, father of the Green Revolution and long time promoter of the industrialization of global agriculture, it is no surprise that the World Food Prize dotes on promoters of increased production. The prize claims to highlight individuals who contribute to the “quality, quantity or availability of food in the world,” but it ignores the fact that hunger has little to do with food scarcity.
This year’s controversial award for agricultural biotechnology highlights the political nature of the issue. Genetic engineering of food crops is not a solution to global hunger; it is a way for chemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow to control the seeds farmers need and package them with mandatory chemical inputs. Robert Fraley, for example, was a key player in the production of “Roundup Ready” soy, which is bred to withstand heavy application of pesticides, not provide useful tools for farmers in the developing world.
With an undisclosed selection committee, heavy corporate funding and backing by U.S. government agencies that support the adoption of American biotechnology abroad, it’s hard to feel good about the World Food Prize. Once touted as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, the World Food Prize has become a publicity campaign for companies looking to paint their practices green.
People working to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system already knew the World Food Prize had its priorities wrong – they started giving out an alternative honor, the Food Sovereignty Prize, in 2009. The 2013 winner of the Food Sovereignty Prize will be announced soon. We’re willing to bet it isn’t Monsanto.
Jessica Walton is an intern at Food & Water Watch.
This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Norman Bourlag’s name and the date that the Food Sovereignty Prize was first awarded.