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In announcement that is sure to rile non-GMO activists and organic food supporters, a Monsanto executive and two other biotechnology scientists were awarded the World Food Prize this week. The prize, which has been called the “Nobel Prize of food,” has been widely criticized for its cozy relationship with big agribusiness and biotech companies, many of which donate money to the World Food Prize Foundation—including Monsanto. This year’s award surely won’t do anything to temper those criticisms. The award will be shared by Monsanto vice president Robert T. Fraley, and scientists Marc Van Montagu and Mary-Dell Chilton.
Secretary of State John Kerry gave the keynote address on Tuesday, as the US State Department hosted the World Food Prize award ceremony — just as it has done for the past decade. And that’s no coincidence. “[W]hile the US government’s involvement might suggest that the prize is a neutral barometer of agricultural excellence, funders of the foundation which backs it have a vested interest in promoting industrialized farming around the world,” explains Alex Park of Mother Jones.
The World Food Prize was founded by Norman E. Borlaug, a noted pioneer of the Green Revolution, who sought to dramatically increase crop yields using modern, industrial agricultural practices. His work is sharply criticized in many organic farming circles. The award is meant to honor “outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world.” But, as Park notes, many of the prize’s biggest donors are among the biggest players in agribusiness. A recent Mother Jones investigation found that from 2009 to 2011, ADM, Cargill, Monsanto, and General Mills donated more than a half million dollars to the World Food Prize Foundation. And according to the New York Times, Monsanto pledged $5 million to the foundation in 2008.
With a history of granting the World Food Prize to people who have contributed to biotechnology, yesterday’s announcement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. And given the findings published by Mother Jones, it should have been expected.