No genetically modified (GM) food can be considered safe, if consumed over a lifetime, according to one speaker at the Asset 2014 conference on food safety yesterday. 

In a debate, Michael Antonious made the claim at the conference, which is taking place in Belfast over three days, with the theme of ‘Our Food is Our Future’, said the safety of GM crops for consumption has not yet been proven. The lecturer in molecular genetics at Kings College London has 32 years’ experience in the use of genetic engineering technology investigating gene organisation was involved in a heated debate where there was strong disagreement between the speakers on their interoperation of data.

On the pro GM side, Owen Brennan, Chairman and Chief Executive of Devenish Group, said if we don’t trust GM it means we don’t trust the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA). He also said that food producers need to do more with less as we face growing demands for food and land. He also said we need to consider GM as climate change impacts on EU and global agricultural production.

Food safety experts from around the world are at Queen’s University Belfast this week to highlight current and emerging threats to the integrity of the food chain. Prior to the debate safefood conducted an opinion poll, with 44 per cent pro GM, 37 per cent opposed to GM and 17 per cent neutral. After the debate, the numbers pro GM had dropped to 40 per cent, those opposed to GM had increased to 42 per cent and those remaining neutral remained at 17 per cent.

The Food Integrity and Traceability Conference, organised by Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security in partnership with safefood, is looking at recent progress in delivering safe and authentic food to the consumer, the greatest threats to the integrity of the agri-food chain and how these can be tackled, and new technology to detect contamination and deter food fraud.

Professor Chris Elliott, who is currently leading the independent review of Britain’s food system for UK government, is Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s, said: “The ability to protect the integrity of the food supply chain from ‘farm to fork’ is a massive challenge and one that is of utmost importance. While significant advances in science are helping reduce the risk of eating contaminated foods, the European-wide horsemeat scandal and the growing list of food product recalls due to contamination have highlighted that major gaps still exist in ensuring the food we consume is authentic and safe.

“Fortunately consumers in the UK and Ireland have access to perhaps the safest food in the world. Major scientific advancements are being made to help minimise risks to the food chain. Scientists at Queen’s are at the forefront of these developments, working with the agri-food industry to develop the latest techniques to detect and deter food fraud. Many of these techniques will be discussed during the conference which will build on the success of a similar event at Queen’s in 2011.”