In a move that has disturbed many anti-hunger advocates, including the 81 global leaders of the World Future Council and laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, the World Food Prize -- often known as the Nobel prize for food and agriculture -- has given this year’s award to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley.
Fraley shares the prize with two other scientists responsible for launching the “technology” behind the biotech business three decades ago, after developing a method for inserting foreign genes into plants. For an award that claims to honor those who contribute to a “nutritious and sustainable food supply,” genetically modified organisms miss the mark on both counts.
GMOs do not create a more nutritious or sustainable food supply. Twenty years after the commercialization of the first GMO seed, almost all are limited to just two types. Either they’ve been developed to resist a proprietary herbicide or engineered to express a specific insecticide. (No surprise, since the product development is led by chemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta.) While these crops have proven profitable to the companies producing them, they’ve been costly to farmers. And for the cash-poor farmers, who make up 70 percent of the world’s hungry, this technology worsens dependency on purchased seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals. As GMOs exacerbate farmers’ dependency on these inputs -- all at volatile and rising prices — many small-scale farmers are driven to despair.
In terms of sustainability, GMOs also do nothing to reduce the agriculture sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, mined minerals, and water -- all natural resources that will only get more costly as they become more scarce.
While the genetic engineers promise that their technology can deliver, experts I’ve interviewed here and around the world are doubtful. Instead, they point to the studies showing the productivity and resilience of organic and agroecological methods, especially in the face of drought and other extreme weather. Organic production methods outperform chemical methods in drought years [PDF] by as much as 31 percent. Other benefits? Organic methods can use 45 percent less energy and produce 40 percent less greenhouse gases [PDF]. Real numbers, real solutions.