News / Science & Technology

GMO Pioneers Win World Food Prize

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice RuanSecretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice Ruan
x
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice Ruan
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice Ruan
Three pioneers in the controversial field of genetically modified crops have won the prestigious World Food Prize, known as the "Nobel Prize for agriculture." The award credits the technology they created with increasing the quantity and availability of food, and providing a tool to help meet the challenges of a growing population and a changing climate. But the selection has been criticized by those who say the benefits of GMOs remain to be seen.

In the 1970s, Belgian scientist Marc van Montagu discovered soil bacteria performing a kind of natural genetic engineering. Montagu says the bacteria insert a piece of their DNA into plant cells, which then produce chemicals that are good for the bacteria.

“Once we [saw] bacteria can insert DNA to give a new property to a plant, we were able to replace that part of the DNA [with] DNA that we want that gives new, useful properties to the plant,” van Montagu said.

Thus plant biotechnology was born. Mary-Dell Chilton and Rob Fraley produced the first genetically modified plants using that technology.

Fraley worked at Monsanto, where he is now chief technology officer.

“We were able to introduce genes that made it easier for farmers to control their weeds and to control insects, giving growers new tools,” Fraley said.

Fraley says those new tools let farmers grow more while using fewer or less toxic chemicals.

Farmers quickly embraced the new technology. They were first introduced in 1996. Today, about 12 percent of the entire world’s farmland grows crops that are genetically modified, according to the World Food Prize citation.

Mary-Dell Chilton is now principal scientist at Syngenta Biotechnology. She was amazed how quickly GM crops caught on.

“It really is astounding. And the reason for this acceptance is that the farmer has found that they work. They benefit him,” Chilton said.

Last year, a record 17.3 million farmers around the world grew genetically modified crops, and more than 90 percent of them were small-scale farmers in developing countries.

With the world expected to add another 2 billion people by 2050, demand for food and clothing will increase by at least 60 percent.  

And biotech crops will help, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, anouncing the winners.

“It is simply true that biotechnology has dramatically increased crop yields. It has dramatically decreased loss due to pests and disease, and it allows us to feed more people without converting tropical forests or fragile lands in order to do so,” Kerry said.

But more than 15 years after the introduction of these crops, critics still question their safety. Senior scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman with the Union of Concerned Scientists says the technology could have benefits, but whether it will be critical for feeding the world remains to be seen.

“My understanding of the prize is you should be giving it to people that have shown major positive, unequivocally positive accomplishments in world agriculture. And I don’t see, so far, this technology being anywhere near that yet,” Gurian-Sherman said.

Gurian-Sherman says the technology has put too much control over the seed supply in the hands of a few companies like Monsanto and Syngenta - companies that he notes are sponsors of the World Food Prize.

The award will presented at a ceremony in the midwestern U.S. state of Iowa in October.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid