The World Food Prize Foundation
has announced that its prestigious prize this year goes to three scientists who helped advance the development of genetically modified crops. The announcement Wednesday in Washington comes just weeks after protesters worldwide demonstrated against genetically modified food.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday the United States supports the use of biotechnology to develop so-called "smart" crops that can withstand droughts and floods and require less fertilization.
"So we save money and we save the environment and we save lives," he said. "It is a virtuous circle. And through innovation, we believe we can help alleviate the level of hunger and malnutrition today, but more than that, we can, hopefully, live up to our responsibilities for the future."
Kerry spoke as the World Food Prize Foundation director, former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn, announced that Belgian Marc Van Montagu and Americans Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert Fraley were being recognized for pioneering achievements in agricultural biotechnology.
"And their work led to the development of a host of biologically and genetically enhanced crops that are now grown on a 170 million hectares by over 17 million farmers worldwide. Over 90 percent are small resource poor farmers in developing countries," said Quinn. "We're now able to grow crops with improved yields, resistance to insects and disease, and tolerance against extreme variation in climate."
The United States is the world's biggest producer and consumer of genetically modified food, and the U.S.-based Monsanto
company is the world's largest developer of genetically altered crops. The company has engineered crops that thrive in some of the world's worst climates and can protect themselves from diseases and pests. The U.S. has promoted these crops as part of a solution to alleviate world hunger. But many countries avoid genetically engineered plants fearing harmful long-term effects.
Last month, environmentalists and food safety groups organized a global protest against genetically modified food. Protesters in the southern city of Knoxville, Tennessee demanded labeling of genetically modified food products.
"Tell people what's in their food," said a woman protester. "Let them know if there are genetically modified organisms in their food or not."
"Corporations in collusion with our government oftentimes don't make the best decisions that are right for the long-term health of our children," said another protester.
Proponents of the genetically enhanced crops argue there is no scientific evidence that they can cause any harm, while the world's growing population raises the global demand for food.