One of the world's most contentious food issues - Genetically Modified (GM) crops - will be debated by some of the world's leading authorities on the subject at Queen's University Belfast today (Wednesday day 9 April).
Food items that has had their DNA changed through genetic engineering. Unlike conventional genetic modification that is carried out through time-tested conventional breeding of plants and animals. Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be "genetically modified," "genetically engineered," or "transgenic." GM products include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers.
A panel of international food experts will argue the pros and cons or GM crops at a special debate as part of the Food Integrity and Traceability Conference (ASSET 2014). The conference, which highlights current and emerging threats to the integrity of the food chain, is being attended by over 350 scientists, regulators and agri-food producers from over 25 countries. The conference and debate are organized by Queen's Institute for Global Food Security and safefood.
The GM debate will feature four experts, who will speak for and against the motion that 'GM crops are a safe and important means of improving food security in Europe'. Anyone with an interest in GM can follow the debate on Twitter and tweet their own opinions on the issue @ASSET2014 using #ASSETGM.
The panelists speaking in favor of GM crops are 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 are 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 will be 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 center of that debate and I look forward to what promises to be a lively, robust and highly interactive discussion."
For more information about the GM debate and the Food Integrity and Traceability conference visit www.qub.ac.uk/asset2014
*The statistics quoted are from Safetrak - safefood/ Millward Brown Lansdowne (November 2013) Survey of 301 adults in Northern Ireland