Ethical Eating

Top Monsanto Executive and Bioengineer Robert Fraley Wins World Food Prize

Ever heard of the Nobel Prize? Those highly prestigious awards that are handed out to individuals who have made remarkable headway in cultural or scientific advances. You know, people who do something to improve declining conditions in the world.

You've probably never heard about it before, but there is a World Food Prize, as well. It's kind of like the agricultural world's equivalent of the honorable Nobel -- except nobody knows about it.

People are going to pay attention this year: the prize was awarded to three biotech scientists -- one of whom is a top executive at Monsanto.

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The three scientists receiving this year's prize played an integral role in the creation of genetically modified crops. Belgian molecular biologist Marc Van Montagu, Syngenta scientist Mary-Dell Chilton, and Robert Fraley, of world-favorite Monsanto.

Obviously, due to his time at Monsanto -- his entire career -- Fraley is the most controversial recipient of the award. In the 1980's Fraley started working as a molecular biologist for Monsanto, establishing new ways of injecting new genes into different plants. He started off with petunia and tobacco, before moving on to the now contentious corn, soybeans, and cotton crops. Currently, more than 80 percent of all corn, cotton, and soybean crops grown in the US are genetically modified.

Fraley is now Monsanto's chief technology officer. A fact, which is sure to provoke the general public.

The World Food Prize was established in 1986 by Iowa Native, "green revolution" innovator, and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug. Funding for the prize was provided by Des Moines businessman, John Ruan. Initially, General Mills sponsored the award.

The World Food Prize has frequently been criticized for its close ties to major agribusiness corporations. In 2008, Monsanto donated $5 million to the organization. Last year, "Occupy the World Food Prize" protests were staged during the formal award ceremony in Des Moine.

The winners were announced on Wednesday at the U.S. Department of State. Secretary of State John Kerry offered his own comments to the announcement.

The official award ceremony will be held October 17 at the Iowa State Capitol.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.