World Food Prize Laureate: Innovation, communication needed

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Monsanto Chief Technology Officer and World Food Prize laureate Dr. Robert Fraley confirmed Monsanto’s commitment to broader open dialogue to address questions around innovations in agriculture, including biotechnology.

“Innovation is key to feeding a rapidly growing global population while also protecting the environment,” Fraley said. “But better dialogue is needed to build understanding and consensus in addressing some of humanity’s biggest challenges.”

Fraley, who accepted the 2013 World Food Prize along with Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton and Dr. Marc Van Montagu, outlined the challenges in feeding the world’s population while also coping with climate change and protecting the environment. Speaking to scientists, farmers, educators and students at the 2013 Borlaug Dialogue Symposium, Fraley emphasized the potential of innovation to help society manage these rapidly growing challenges.

During his speeches at the Borlaug Dialogue, Fraley pointed out that biotechnology is only one aspect of innovation in agriculture, with advanced breeding techniques and, increasingly, data science also playing important roles in helping farmers to maximize the amount of food grown on every square meter of every field. The combination of these advances will be critical for the world’s farmers to feed a global population that is expected to grow from 7.1 billion today to 9.6 billion in 2050, according to the United Nations.

Technology advances are even more critical when the environmental impact of a larger global population is considered. A land mass equivalent to roughly the size of South America is needed to feed today’s population.

“We can continue to innovate to grow more food from existing farmland, create more farmland across our planet at the expense of our forests and habitats that are vital to biodiversity, or do neither and increase the probability of even greater challenges in the decades ahead,” Fraley said. “I am absolutely confident that our ability to innovate will enable us to safely and sustainably feed a population of 9.6 billion by 2050.”

Fraley and fellow laureates Chilton and Van Montagu will receive the 2013 World Food Prize in recognition of their individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing and applying modern agricultural biotechnology to help farmers feed the world. The Laureates’ work has led to the development of several crops developed through the use of biotechnology, which, by 2012, were grown on more than 170 million hectares around the globe by 17.3 million farmers. More than 90 percent of these farmers are smallholder farmers in developing countries.

“Biotechnology crops make farming more productive and mitigate agriculture’s impact on our environment by reducing soil erosion, conserving water and reducing other agricultural inputs,” Fraley said. “We are still at the tip of the iceberg as new biotechnology traits are being developed for managing pest challenges, and new products have the potential to enable us to reduce the impact of drought and enhance yield and nutrition.”

Thirty years of research has validated the safety of biotechnology products, Fraley said, but Monsanto and others in the scientific community need to do more to share information and answer questions from those with concerns.

“Working together as an industry we need to share more background and more information on food innovation and GMO safety with the millions of people out there who have legitimate questions,” Fraley said. “We want anyone with an interest in nutritious, affordable and available food to have complete, accurate information.”

Monsanto has committed to ongoing dialogue with groups that represent consumers, farmers, environmentalists and others who are addressing food security and safety.

“We need to do much better discussing, promoting and sustaining an honest discussion around the food issues that confront our changing world,” Fraley added. “The topic is too important and people care too deeply to segment and confine this subject to audiences separated by misconceptions. Monsanto doesn’t have all the answers but I can promise you that we will collaborate, dialogue and work together to do what it takes to move this discussion forward – that’s our commitment.”

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