Two of the three scientists sharing this year's World Food Prize have ties to prominent biotech companies, including Monsanto.
While not nearly as high-profile, the World Food Prize is referred to as the "Nobel Prize for food agriculture." The award, announced Wednesday at the U.S. State Department (with Secretary of State John Kerry contributing his own remarks) will be shared this year by scientists who each play a role in the advancement of genetically engineered crops: Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert Fraley.
Fraley, the youngest of the three, has worked at Monsanto for more than three decades. He started at the biotech giant working as a molecular biologist and is now the company's chief technology officer. Mary-Dell Chilton is the founder of Syngenta Biotechnology, another prominent biotech company.
While Americans are generally more accepting of genetically modified crops than Europeans, Marc Van Montagu hopes to change the sentiment towards transgenic crops across the Atlantic. He is the founder of the Institute of Plant Technology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium, and, according to Russia Today, has said he hoped "that this recognition will pave the way for Europe to embrace the benefits of this technology, an essential condition for global acceptance of transgenic plants."
In the U.S., genetically modified corn, soybeans and cotton dominate 90 percent of the U.S. market, according to a Washington Post report. By some estimates, as much as 70 percent of all processed food sold in the U.S. contains ingredients or oils from genetically engineered crops.
Countries in the European Union are much less accepting of genetically modified crops. Hungary reportedly destroyed entire shipments of seeds found to be genetically modified.
Established in 1986, The World Food Prize Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization with its headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. It awards an annual prize of $250,000
Much like the controversial biotech company Monsanto, the award has been the subject of protest. Last year, activist groups opposed to genetically modified food staged an "Occupy World Food Prize" protest during the World Food Prize award ceremony, NPR reported.
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