* Winners include Syngenta executive, Belgian researcher
* Laureates say award validates biotech as food source
* Prize regarded as the Nobel of agriculture
* U.S. still searching for source of biotech wheat in Oregon
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, June 19 An executive with Monsanto
Co and two other pioneers in agricultural biotechnology
said their selection as winners of the $250,000 World Food Prize
on Wednesday should encourage the wider use of genetically
The Iowa foundation that administers the prize, created by
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, said genetically
modified crops offer higher yields and more resistance to pests,
plant disease and harsh weather.
It was the first time the award, often regarded as the
equivalent of a Nobel Prize for agriculture, has gone to a
creator of GM crops.
While engineered varieties of crops like soybeans and corn
are popular among U.S. farmers, they are not approved for
cultivation in Europe. Some U.S. consumer groups also say
genetically modified foods should be labeled, despite government
assurances that the foods are safe.
Named as winners were: Robert Fraley, the chief technology
officer at Monsanto; Mary-Dell Chilton, founder of Syngenta
Biotechnology ; and Marc Van Montagu, founder of the
Institute of Plant Technology Outreach at Ghent University in
"These three scientists are being recognized for their
independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding,
developing and applying modern agricultural biotechnology," said
Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation.
The Food Prize was announced as the U.S. Agriculture
Department's search for the source of unapproved biotech wheat
found on a farm in Oregon in April continued. The strain was
developed years ago by Monsanto, but abandoned in 2005 due to
worldwide opposition to engineered wheat.
Van Montagu 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
Genetically engineered crops were grown on 430 million
acres(170 million ha) around the world in 2012, said the food
prize committee. Despite the "gene revolution," though, the
committee noted estimates that 870 million people - one in eight
of the world's population - are hungry.
"The World Food Prize provides us an important platform to
engage a new global dialogue around enabling farmer access to
advanced agricultural tools while ensuring a sustainable food
supply for all," said Fraley.
Chilton, who helped produce the first genetically modified
plants in the 1980s, said agricultural biotechnology "which
started as curiosity-driven fundamental research, has now found