Wrong Choice


In honoring the seed biotechnology industry, this year’s World Food Prize — to many, the most prestigious prize in food and agriculture — betrays the award’s own mandate to emphasize “the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people.” [1]

The 2013 World Food Prize has gone to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, responsible for development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Almost twenty years after commercialization of the first GMO seeds, most are not engineered to enhance nutrient content, but to produce a specific pesticide or to resist a proprietary herbicide, or a combination of these traits [2]. But even in reducing weeds, the technology is failing, for it has generated herbicide-resistant “super weeds” now appearing on nearly half of American farms [3].

GMO seeds undermine sustainability in several other ways as well.

While profitable to the few companies producing them, GMO seeds reinforce a model of farming that undermines sustainability of cash-poor farmers, who make up most of the world’s hungry [4]. GMO seeds continue their dependency on purchased seed and chemical inputs. The most dramatic impact of such dependency is in India, where 270, 000 farmers, many trapped in debt for buying seeds and chemicals, committed suicide between 1995 and 2012 [5].

GMOs also threaten sustainability because they continue agriculture’s dependence on diminishing and damaging fossil fuels and mined minerals, as well as water.

This award not only communicates a false connection between GMOs and solutions to hunger and agricultural degradation, but it also diverts attention from truly “nutritious and sustainable” agroecological approaches already proving effective, especially in the face of extreme weather. The Rodale Institute, for example, found in its 30-year study, that organic methods outperformed chemical farming during drought years by as much as 31 percent. Organic methods can use 45 percent less energy and produce 40 percent less greenhouse gases [6].

Further evidence from around the world is showing how ecological methods dramatically enhance productivity [7], improve nutritional content of crops [8], and benefit soil health [9], all without leaving farmers dependent on ever-more expensive inputs [10]. The United Nations, through its Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has documented ecological agriculture’s potential in hungry regions to double food production in one decade [11].  Chaired by former World Food Prize awardee Dr. Hans Herren, the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, developed by 400 experts and endorsed by 59 governments, calls for redirection of agricultural development toward such sustainable practices [12]. Across the world, agroecology and food sovereignty are emerging solutions shaped and chosen by scientists and citizens worldwide.

Note that the World Food Prize mandate is also to recognize contributors to food “for all people” but GMO seeds make this goal harder to reach. Most GM crops are used for feed, for livestock, processed food, or fuel – products not accessible to hungry people. Moreover, the planet already produces more than enough food for all; yet today 870 million people still suffer from extreme, long-term undernourishment because they lack power to access adequate food [13]. Developed and controlled by a handful of companies, genetically engineered seeds further the concentration of power and the extreme inequality at the root of this crisis of food inaccessibility. Monsanto, for example, controls 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 80 percent of its corn crop and cotton crop [14].

The choice of the 2013 World Food Prize is an affront to the growing international consensus on safe, ecological farming practices that have been scientifically proven to promote nutrition and sustainability. Many governments have rejected GMOs [15], and as many as two million citizens in 52 countries recently marched in opposition to GMOs [16]. In living democracies, discounting this knowledge and these many voices is not acceptable.


(An asterisk indicates the person is also a Right Livelihood Award Laureate but listed only once.)

*Vandana Shiva, Founder, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology

*Frances Moore Lappé, Co-founder, Small Planet Institute

*Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians

*Dipal Barua, Founder and Chairman of the Bright Green Energy Foundation

*Hans-Peter Dürr, Nuclear physicist and philosopher

*Sulak Sivaraksa, Co-founder, International Network of Engaged Buddhists

*Ibrahim Abouleish, Founder of SEKEM

*Chico Whitaker, Co-founder, World Social Forum

*Manfred Max-Neef, Director, Economics Institute, Universidad Austral de Chile

*Alyn Ware, Founder and international coordinator of the Network Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND)

David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Rama Mani, Vice Chair, Academic Council on the United Nations System

Alexander Likhotal, President, Green Cross International

Thais Corral, Co-founder, Women’s Environment and Development Organization

Pauline Tangiora, Maori elder, Rongomaiwahine Tribe

Anna Oposa, Co-Founder, Save Philippine Seas

Scilla Elworthy, Founder, Oxford Research Group, Founder, Peace Direct

Katiana Orluc, Director of Development/Strategic Affairs, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Art Contemporary (TBA21)

Riane Eisler, President, Centre for Partnership Studies

Ashok Khosla, Chairman, Centre for Development Alternatives

Hafsat Abiola, Founder and President of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND)

Rafia Ghubash, President, Arab Network for Women, Science and Technology

Daryl Hannah, Actress and advocate for a sustainable world

Vithal Rajan, Founder, Trustee of Agriculture Man Ecology [AME], Foundation of India

Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, The Oakland Institute

Herbert Girardet,  Honorary Councillor, World Future Council

Ana María Cetto, Research professor of the Institute of Physics and lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Nicholas Dunlop,  Secretary-General, Climate Parliament

Motoyuki Suzuki, Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo, Japan

 Huffington Post, “Choice of Monsanto Betrays World Food Prize Purpose, Say Global Leaders” by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé