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.
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.
An anti-biotech group known as "Occupy the World Food Prize" is planning demonstrations and picketing of the World Food Prize symposium. They have a website www.occupytheworldfoodprize.com and are encouraging people to come to Des Moines to take part in the protest. The occupy group is also bringing in speakers of its own to stage a program at First United Methodist Church in Des Moines on October 16.
Controversy aside, prize officials are making more efforts to reach beyond the agricultural and scientific community, and bring information on these and other important issues to a general audience, says Ken Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. "The single most important question humanity faces is how it will feed 9 billion people by the year 2050," he notes. "This isn't something that only a select few should be discussing or thinking about. We all should concern ourselves with this question."
President of Iceland to speak on climate change at World Food Prize symposium
For the first time, the annual World Food Prize International Symposium will be attended by a sitting head of state. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, President of Iceland, will address the annual Borlaug Dialogue on the topic of climate change. Also speaking at this year's event October 16-18 in Des Moines will be former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leader of the African Governance Initiative and Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President of the Pontification Council for Justice and Peace from the Vatican.
The annual "Borlaug Dialogue" is the main part of the symposium. Other related events during World Food Prize week will also take place and begin October 14. The laureate ceremony will be held at the Iowa State Capitol on October 17 and the annual World Food Prize Global Youth Institute is October 19. In addition to what's going on in Des Moines, 20 lectures presented by various World Food Prize speakers will take place across Iowa during the week. You can watch the Borlaug Dialogue symposium October 16-18 as it will be webcast live. Go to www.worldfoodprize.org/lectures.
Farm groups, ag industry and universities commend World Food prize for addressing biotechnology in agriculture
Last week 100 organizations and universities commended the World Food Prize Foundation for the foundation's support of science and its application to agriculture. In a letter sent to Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the foundation, the groups thanked the foundation for entering the discussion of biotechnology through this year's theme for the Borlaug Dialogue, "The Next Borlaug Century: Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility."
The annual World Food Prize symposium focuses on advances in science-based innovation, sustainable agriculture and food security. More information about the WFP Foundation and the Borlaug Dialogue can be found at the World Food Prize website.