Beall: A prize for Monsanto

BY MIKE BEALL | JULY 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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The World Food Prize, sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, was just awarded last week in Des Moines to three genetically modified food scientists, and the decision has rightfully stirred up controversy.

The controversy isn’t just about what they have done but whom they work for. All three are executives at chemical companies, including Robert Fraley, who is the vice president and chief technology officer for Monsanto Co. Inc.

The prize in question is awarded to individuals and organizations that help alleviate poverty throughout the world, positively affect nutrition, and create better food sustainability. These three were awarded specifically because of their help developing modern plant biotechnology supporting improved sustainability and food security, but the plant biotechnology that they and Monsanto have developed has not reduced poverty or improved sustainability or nutrition.

Since the first genetically modified organism seed was sold almost 20 years ago, chemical companies like Monsanto have made high profits off the product while farmers have suffered.    

Because of the Monsanto business model, which involves reselling seed every year, farmers cannot save or reuse Monsanto seeds. This means that they have to buy new seeds every year, a practice that has made small-scale, sustainable farming more difficult than it was in the past. This biotechnology has increased dependency on costly seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals. Such products are prohibitively costly to farmers, especially those in the developing world, whose poverty worsens because of GMOs.

In terms of worldwide nutrition, GMO food has actually worsened the problem. High farming costs have left many farmers in poverty while 1 billion people are malnourished on our planet. Meanwhile, in America, we grow enough food to feed those people but choose to use our crops in other ways.

Feeding the poor would simply be less profitable than feeding our cows, making unsustainable fuel, and creating unhealthy foods. Because the producers of genetically modified seeds value profit over people, worldwide nutrition is much worse than it was 20 years ago.

If GMOs do not serve to create sustainability, and they certainly have done nothing to alleviate poverty or positively affect nutrition, then why were these men awarded the World Food Prize? A possible explanation is that Monsanto and a number of other big agriculture corporations are leading sponsors of the World Food Prize.

It seems that Monsanto has acted to maximize its profits, turned around and told its friends how much good they are doing (while at the same time suing farmers into bankruptcy for “misusing GMO seeds”), and then patted itself on the back with a nice little award to justify what it has done.

But not everyone in the world is singing the praises of GMOs. Health and environmental concerns have led many European and African countries to ban the use of genetically modified seeds.

The World Food Prize was once reserved for individuals and organizations that strived to end poverty in the world. It was created by native Iowan, Green Revolution leader, and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug. Previous winners have done outstanding work, which has helped countless people throughout the world. But this year’s award is a travesty and a reminder of how much influence Monsanto has.

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