Profile of a protester: a hidden voice at the World Food Prize

Maggie Rowland, 85, protested use of biotechnology outside the 2014 World Food Prize in Des Moines. (Photo by Ann Millington)

Maggie Rowland, 85, protested use of biotechnology outside the 2014 World Food Prize in Des Moines. (Photo by Ann Millington)

By Breanne Brammer

DES MOINES, Iowa — Maggie Rowland used to believe in the World Food Prize. Then, last year Robert Fraley, Monsanto Co.’s chief technology officer, was awarded the prize.

That was the final straw for Rowland.

“The World Food Prize is about money, not about food,” Rowland said. “What the World Food Prize represents is industrial agriculture.”

Rowland, an 85-year-old Des Moines resident who tries to buy organic foods, is concerned about how biotechnology affects natural resources and human health. Her worry is that future generations will be more susceptible to Parkinson’s disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, she said.

She was one of about 40 demonstrators from many groups positioned outside the World Food Prize headquarters at the Marriott Downtown Hotel on Thursday. Rowland was with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a Massachusetts-based organization whose mission is to achieve equal rights for women and social justice.

The groups are in Des Moines in conjunction with the Food Sovereignty Prize, an organization focused on building relationships between people and the land. This is the first time the group has held its meeting at the same time and place as the World Food Prize, Rowland said.

About 40 protestors from many groups gathered outside the Marriott Downtown Hotel in Des Moines Thursday. They were part of an alternative meeting, the Food Sovereignty Prize, a conference focused on people’s relationship with the land. (Photo by Ann Millington)

About 40 protestors from many groups gathered outside the Marriott Downtown Hotel in Des Moines Thursday. They were part of an alternative meeting, the Food Sovereignty Prize, a conference focused on people’s relationship with the land. (Photo by Ann Millington)

The Food Sovereignty Prize supports small farmers and respects cultures while still feeding people, she said. There are good farmers, but they are not at the World Food Prize, Rowland said.

The World Food Prize claims its mission is to feed people, she said, but it does not show the negative effects of industrial agriculture, like water, air and soil pollution. Rowland said she is demonstrating because she wants the world to know biotechnology is not the only answer to feeding the world.

The gray-haired Rowland stood proudly with her homemade sign, “It’s about $$$ not feeding the world,” at the corner of the World Food Prize conference headquarters.

A man in a suit yelled, “Enjoy starving,” and told Rowland she can’t feed the world without biotechnology.

“Rich people never go hungry,” Rowland said. “It’s the poor people who suffer because of biotechnology.

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