WASHINGTON (October 17, 2013) – The World Food Prize will be awarded today to three scientists whose contributions led to the development of genetically engineered crops. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the agricultural application of their advances do not justify the prize, which is awarded for increasing “quality, quantity or availability” of food.
“The world food prize is agriculture’s red carpet event. But glitz and glamour aside, many are questioning if this year’s recipients have lived up to the award. Has Monsanto really meaningfully increased food’s quality, yields or access? The short answer is no,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the Food & Environment Program at UCS.
While these scientists have made valuable scientific discoveries, the biotechnology companies grossly overhype genetic engineering’s ability. Further, Monsanto and other agricultural companies are generous sponsors of the World Food Prize – including a $5 million donation from Monsanto – which creates a conflict of interest for company scientists who receive the prize.
To highlight Monsanto’s underwhelming contributions to agricultural production, UCS placed ads in and around Des Moines, where Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, and Mary-Dell Chilton, with Syngenta, will be honored. These ads counter Monsanto’s inflated promises with facts gleaned from UCS analysis.
Fraley helped develop Monsanto’s Roundup Ready product line, which was marketed as an easy fix for weeds. But overuse has led to an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds,” which has driven up total herbicide use and left farmers turning to more toxic formulations.
Not only are these products proving to be unsustainable, but the productivity claims are grossly exaggerated. Genetic engineering has not dramatically increased yields in the U.S. when compared to other agricultural technologies. The modest increases in yield from genetic engineering are less than the increased productivity resulting from crop breeding and improvements in growing crops. Moreover, modern agroecological practices, including cover cropping, crop rotations, and integrating livestock and crops, can balance productivity, farmer profits and environmental protection.
“Genetic engineering has ‘supersized’ serious problems, such as destructive herbicide-resistant weeds, and their products generally are not living up to the hype,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Rather than genetic engineering, we should think of crop breeding and agroecological farming methods as ‘Agriculture 2.0.’ They are less sexy but also less expensive and will prove more effective at increasing the ‘quality, quantity or availability’ of food while reducing reliance on harmful pesticides and conserving scarce resources.”
Monsanto spends millions to secure such political favor. While breeding and agroecology are proven, affordable and will produce enough food to support a growing population, federal farm policies are stacked in favor of Monsanto. For agroecology methods to succeed farm policies must begin to incentivize these truly sustainable practices.
“Monsanto is failing farmers and consumers,” said Gurian-Sherman. “But if we could just see through the industry's smoke and mirrors, we would see that agroecology is the future of agriculture.”