This year's World Food Prize International Symposium set for October 16-18 in Des Moines, Iowa will be bigger than ever - and will discuss topics sure to generate more debate than ever before at this annual event. The theme for 2013 is "The Next Borlaug Century: Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility." More than 1,200 people from over 70 countries are expected to attend.
The prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native and agricultural scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work as a plant breeder whose accomplishments earned him the nickname of "Father of the Green Revolution" in helping feed a hungry world.
TACKLING HOT TOPICS: Leaders from around the globe representing government agencies, industry, academia, farm and food organizations will come to Iowa for the annual World Food Prize International Symposium October 16-18. The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines is headquarters for the World Food Prize.
An organized protest of the upcoming conference and laureate ceremony in Des Moines has been brewing ever since this year's winners of the $250,000 annual World Food Prize were announced in June at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. The prestigious prize is being awarded to three laureates who are pioneers in biotechnology, putting a spotlight on the debate over genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
2013 laureates played key roles genetically modified crop advancement
Winners of the prize for 2013 are Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, Mary-Dell Chilton of the United States and Robert Fraley of the United States—three scientists who are being honored for their work in developing genetically modified crops. The three laureates helped devise ways to insert genes from other species into a plant's DNA to improve yields and provide resistance to insects and diseases. Experts on both sides of the issue will debate the pros and cons of GMOs at this year's symposium.
Proponents of the technology believe GMOs are a critical tool to feed a world population expected to increase from 7 billion people today to an estimated 9 billion by 2050. Opponents of GMOs believe the technology poses threats to human health and the environment; threats that the opponents believe are real or haven't been researched enough and are not yet understood. Other critics believe biotech enriches agribusiness companies at the expense of small farmers across the globe.
Protests planned by group calling itself "Occupy the World Food Prize"
The business ties of two of this year's three honorees also trouble the critics. Chilton works for Syngenta, the seed and chemical manufacturer based in Basel, Switzerland. Fraley is an executive with Monsanto, the seed and chemical firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. Van Montagu is founder and chairman of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium.