WASHINGTON – Hunger and malnutrition kill more people every year than AIDS,malaria and tuberculosis combined. According to the United Nations,one in seven people in the world suffers from hunger,which is more than the combined populations of the United States,Canada and the European Union.
The World Food Prize held two events here Tuesday to recognize world leaders in the fight against hunger and to discuss farm-based solutions to end hunger.
At a ceremony at the State Department,the World Food Prize announced the former presidents of Ghana,John Kufuor,and Brazil,Luiz Lula da Silva, as the winners of this year’s award.They will receive the awards Oct. 13 in Des Moines,Iowa.
Kufuor and Lula da Silva were recognized for reducing hunger in their countries by more than half. Kufuor reduced hunger by two-thirds,from 34 percent of the population to 9 percent in 2004.
Lula da Silva beat the UN’s goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015,reducing hunger from 12 percent of the population in 2003 to less than 5 percent in 2009.
“Up until now,the World Food Prize has never been awarded to a head of government,” said Kenneth M. Quinn,president of the World Food Prize Foundation and former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia.
“We thought it high time to recognize and draw attention to heads of government who make change happen,” Quinn said.
Each year,the World Food Prize recognizes individuals who vastly improve the quantity,quality or availability of food throughout the world. The award was founded in 1986 by Norman Borlaug,a Nobel Peace Prize winner who developed high-yield crop varieties and introduced them to developing nations.
In a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science sponsored by the World Food Prize,one scientist said that keeping up with the demand for food in the coming decades will require the use of genetically modified foods.
“We need to employ modern genetic tools and the most effective science-based farming practices to address a critical challenge of our time,” said Pamela Ronald,a professor at University of California,Davis and co-author of “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming,Genetics and the Future of Food.”
The challenge,she said,is balancing increasing demand for food while protecting wilderness from farming and preventing the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers.
Ronald said the higher yields and built-in pest resistance of GM food are the only way to provide low-cost food while protecting the environment.
The Organic Trade Association,a Vermont-based trade group representing the organic industry in North America,said organic crops can produce enough food.
‘There is a myth about organic that it’s low yield,” said Barbara Haumann,senior writer and editor for the OTA,“Farmers have to wean the land off the chemicals. … It takes time to build up the soil to be more productive.”
Haumann said it’s impossible to know if GE crops are harmful to human health because no law requires foods to be labeled if they contain GE ingredients,a stance Ronald disagreed with.
“The world’s leading experts … have concluded that the genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat and safe for the environment,” Ronald said. “After 14 years of cultivation and over a billion acres planted,not a single instance of harm to human health or the environment had resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.”
Despite their differences,Ronald and Haumann agreed that the future of food will include both organic and GE crops.
“I think what scientists are saying … is there may be a combination,but definitely,organic is a key piece,” Haumann said.
Reach reporter Kevin Heim at [email protected] or 202-326-9861
SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.