The World Food Prize Foundation named three distinguished scientists as winners of the 2013 World Food Prize Wednesday – Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley of the United States. The winners were announced during a ceremony at the State Department where Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the keynote address. The winners will share a $250,000 prize.

The World Food Prize was started in 1987 by Norman E. Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for bringing about the Green Revolution. The award is presented to those who improve the “quality, quantity or availability” of food in the world.

Monsanto scientist, two others win World Food PrizeAnnouncing the names of the 2013 Laureates, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize, said, “These three scientists are being recognized for their independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing and applying modern agricultural technology.”

The selection of Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, is sure to add to the controversy surrounding the use of biotechnology in crop production.

“I’m sure there will be some controversy about it,” Quinn told The New York Times in an interview before the winners were announced. But he also said crop biotechnology had “met the test of demonstrating it would impact millions of people and enhance their lives.”

This year marks the first time in its 27-year history that the prize has recognized the work of biotechnology pioneers. Van Montagu, Chilton and Fraley each conducted molecular research on how a plant bacterium could be adapted as a tool to insert genes from another organism into plant cells. The result is GMO crops, which now account for about 90 percent of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S.

“Hunger is a trap that prevents people from realizing their God-given potential,” Secretary Kerry said in his address. “Food drives life. And the struggle for food is a struggle for life. This makes hunger an economic issue, a national security issue – and without a doubt a moral issue. Through innovation, we can help alleviate hunger and malnutrition today – but more than that, we can help fulfill our responsibility to tomorrow.”

Marc Van Montagu, who is Founder and Chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium; Mary-Dell Chilton, who is Founder and Distinguished Fellow of Syngenta Biotechnology; and Robert T. Fraley, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto, will be formally awarded the World Food Prize at the 27th Annual Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 17, in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, focused this year on “The Next Borlaug Century: Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility.”