Biotechnology Heritage Award

It’s not easy competing with Sir Elton John. But such was the fate of Robert T. Fraley last week when he received this year’s Biotechnology Heritage Award in Atlanta.

The award is jointly sponsored by the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the list of previous winners is a veritable who’s who of contemporary biotechnology.

Fraley is the executive vice president and chief technology officer of the Monsanto Company, one of the world’s largest and most innovative agricultural companies. He oversees all the technical aspects of bioengineered products, including corn, soybeans, and cotton, and is considered one of the founding fathers of modern agricultural biotechnology.

Readers will know that there has been much debate—some of it contentious—on the complex legal, ethical, social, and regulatory issues around genetically modified food products. Monsanto has openly contributed to the richness of this debate, and this has influenced a much more informed public attitude in the U.S. than in Europe on the interrelationships between crop improvement, food safety, and the use of science to advance human goals.

And where does Elton John fit into this picture?

The famous pop musician was the lunch speaker following the Biotechnology Heritage Award presentation. I’m sure Fraley told his kids he was the “warm-up act” for the rock star, or perhaps a “hard act to follow.”

But neither man played or sang a note. Sir Elton held forth about his work to eradicate HIV/AIDS. This surely endeared himself to the collected biotechnology folks, many of whom are pursuing the same goal, albeit by different means.

So the occasion showed once again, this time with both food and medicine, that there are many ways to achieve the same end.

Posted In: History | Policy | Technology

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