Gearing up for battle at this year's World Food Prize

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As the week-long activities begin in Des Moines, Iowa for the World Food Prize, it might be a good idea if God could intervene. In a stroke of either near genius or sheer foolhardiness, Kenneth Quinn, the head of the World Food Prize organization, is bringing together hundreds of people concerned with the proliferation of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) in food products used throughout the world today.

Hopefully, by the end of the week, there will be a little light.

Along the way the path is crowded with many who have something at stake here, including three World Food Prize laureates each receiving a slice of a $240,000 prize, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Cardinal Peter Turkson stating that his goal is to bring the loud clamoring crowds of protesters from Occupy World Food Prize, and Catholic Worker houses coming together with GMO supporters from corporate agriculture in an attempt to find common soil.

Just as in Congress, the lines that separate these two warring factions could not be drawn more starkly.

According to last year’s World Food Prize recipient Dr. Daniel Hillel, in a talk he gave to students at Iowa State University, there is an urgent need for discussion. “We need to broaden and deepen our view,” says Hillel. "Only 25 percent of the soil in the world is suitable for agriculture. The remainder is unsuitable for crops with under 12 percent cultivated. We are not able to expand without encroaching on fragile systems and biospheres so we need to be careful and not degrade our resources.”

Climate changes and rising seas will certainly impact that meager 25 percent of usable land around the globe. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.”

This year’s WFP laureates all have ties that run deep into corporate agriculture. Robert Fraley is executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, Mary-Dell Chilton is founder of one of the globe’s largest GMO companies, and Marc Van Montagu is founder of not one but two biotechnology companies as well as a nonprofit that promotes biotechnology in developing countries.

This doesn’t sit well with protest movements springing up around Des Moines. “It’s not a world food prize,” says cofounder of Occupy the World Food Prize and longtime Catholic Worker Frank Cordaro. “It’s a corporate world food prize. Only now, people are understanding that our food system is controlled by these guys and this world prize is their Nobel Prize for corporate farming.”

Corporate agriculture is firing back. “We are very late to this debate,” said Cathleen Enright, executive vice president of food and agriculture with the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “We’ve got some ground and time to make up.” But with pending legislation in several states across the United States concerning the labeling of any GMO product, it may be too late for rebranding.

Into this quagmire walks Turkson, a man who might have been pope. A native of Ghana, Turkson has stated in the past that he considers the dependency of farmers on GMO seeds as a “form of slavery.”

We will see when he arrives later this week whether he is able to prevent further erosion.

Journalist Sue Stanton is attending the World Food Prize this week in Des Moines, Iowa and will be filing guest blog posts as the event proceeds.