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International debate on genetically modified crops

One of the world’s most contentious food issues – () crops – was debated by some of the world’s leading authorities on the subject at Queen’s University Belfast.

A panel of international food experts argued the pros and cons of at a special debate as part of the Food Integrity and Traceability Conference (ASSET 2014). The conference, which highlighted current and emerging threats to the integrity of the food chain, was attended by over 350 scientists, regulators and agri-food producers from over 25 countries. The conference and debate were organised by Queen’s Institute for Global and safefood.

The GM debate featured four experts, who spoke for and against the motion that ‘GM crops are a safe and important means of improving food security in Europe’.

The panellists speaking in favour of GM crops were Owen Brennan, Chief Executive of Devenish Group, the Belfast-based global agri-technology company; and Professor Klaus Ammann from the University of Bern.

Those opposing the motion were Dr John Fagan, Chief Executive of Annapurna Global Inc, a leading authority on sustainability in the food system; and Dr Michael Antoniou, an expert in genetic engineering at King’s College London. The debate was chaired by Ella McSweeney, presenter of RTE’s Ear to the Ground.

Recent research by safefood with consumers in Northern Ireland revealed that 11 per cent check food labels for information on GM, compared with 3 per cent who check for organic content and 2 per cent who check for allergy advice.

Looking forward to the debate, Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s, said: “The debate around Genetically Modified food is one of the most hotly contested food issues in the world today. Today’s discussion will explore the issues around the introduction of GM feeds, crops and foods into Europe – a topic that is becoming increasingly important in an attempt to deal with new challenges and threats to global food security.”

Explaining what GM food is, Professor Elliott continued: “Genetically Modified essentially means altering the genetic make-up of plants and crop in the laboratory, by removing or adding genes to the plant’s DNA to give it a new characteristic. It can be used to increase productivity, to make crops more resistant to disease, or to enable plants to survive in hostile environments. While some people argue it opens the door to a more plentiful, sustainable and cheaper food supply, others contest that nature should not be interfered with and that we can’t be sure of its effects on farm animals, humans and other plant and wildlife.

“As pressure continues to grow on governments, food producers and scientists to provide the world’s growing population with a sustainable, safe and secure supply of high quality food, the GM debate looks set to continue well into the 21st century. Today, Queen’s will be at the centre of that debate and I look forward to what promises to be a lively, robust and highly interactive discussion.”


The GM Debate took place at Queen’s University, Belfast, 9 April 2014.

The statistics quoted are from Safetrak – safefood/ Millward Brown Lansdowne (November 2013) Survey of 301 adults in Northern Ireland

Queen’s University Belfast