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 On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid