Claim:   Item protests the awarding of World Food Prizes to persons associated with Monsanto and Syngenta.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2013]

Is this true?

In an obscene development, a Monsanto executive is winning this year’s ‘Nobel Prize of agriculture’ — the prestigious World Food Prize — for creating GMOs. Receiving it legitimizes the sort of rampant genetic modification Monsanto pioneered, and helps validate a ruthless business model that impoverishes farmers and monopolizes our food. If that wasn’t baffling enough, the founder of Syngenta, the same biotech giant joining Bayer in suing Europe to keep selling bee-killing pesticides, will also win the prize. The ceremony is in less than one week, so we need to act now.

Please join me in tell the World Food Prize Foundation not to reward Monsanto and bee-killer Syngenta’s outrageous practices.


Origins:   The World Food Prize is an award that originated in 1986 to honor “outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world”:

The World Food Prize is the foremost international award recognizing — without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs — the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

The Prize recognizes contributions in any field involved in the world food supply — food and agriculture science and technology, manufacturing, marketing, nutrition, economics, poverty alleviation, political leadership and the social sciences.

The World Food Prize emphasizes the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people. By honoring those who have worked successfully toward this goal, The Prize calls attention to what has been done to improve global food security and to what can be accomplished in the future.

In 2013 the World Food Prize Foundation designated three World Food Prize laureates:
Dr. Mar Van Montagu, the Founder and Chairman of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach in Ghent, Belgium; Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, a Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc. (SBI), and Dr. Robert T. Fraley, an Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer with the Monsanto Company; for their work in the field of agricultural biotechnology:

The pioneering work of Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton, and Robert Fraley contributed to the emergence of a new term, “agricultural biotechnology,” and set the stage for engineering crops with novel traits that improved yields and conferred resistance to insects and disease, as well as tolerance to adverse environmental conditions. Their work

has made it possible for farmers in 30 countries to improve the yields of their crops, have increased incomes, and feed a growing global population.

Beginning with the first cultivation of staple transgenic crops in 1996 until the present, biotech crops have contributed to food security and sustainability by increasing crop production valued at $98.2 billion and providing a better environment by reducing the application of significant amounts of pesticides worldwide. Today, approximately 12 percent of the world’s arable land is planted with biotechnology crops.

There have been dramatic increases in the total acreage planted. Corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton are the major biotech crops grown commercially on a large scale and have become an integral part of international agricultural production and trade. At the same time, a wide variety of useful genes have been transformed into a large number of economically important plants, including most of the food crops, scores of varieties of fruits and vegetables, and many tree species.

These individuals will be formally bestowed with their World Food Prize honors during a ceremony scheduled for 17 October 2013 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. The item reproduced above entreats readers to call upon the World Food Prize Foundation to rescind those honors in protest over Monsanto’s “ruthless business model that impoverishes farmers and monopolizes our food” and Syngenta’s “bee-killing pesticides.”

As far as the “truth” of this item goes, it is trivially true the persons named will be honored with the World Food Prize, and that some people object to the awarding of those honors. A discussion of the pros and cons of agricultural biotechnology in general and Monsanto’s business practices in specific could fill volumes and is therefore outside the scope of this article, but we’ll point out a few other details related to one of the prize recipients:

  • It is far from certain what has been causing an observed die-off in bee colonies over the last several years. Neonicotinoid insecticides from companies such as Bayer and Syngenta have been suggested as possible suspects, but there is as yet no scientific consensus that such insecticides are the only or primary cause of large numbers of bee colony deaths. In April 2013 the European Commission announced the introduction of a two-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments on crops considered attractive to bees, and Bayer and Syngenta are both challenging that decision, maintaining it was based on an “inaccurate and incomplete” assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not imposed such restrictions, reporting declines in bee populations were due to several factors other than pesticides, including loss of habitat, parasites, disease, genetics, and poor nutrition.
  • Mary-Dell Chilton is one of the pioneers of modern plant biotechnology and made many important contributions to the field while on faculty at Washington University, work that antedates her association with SBI.

Last updated:   14 October 2013


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