Genetically Modified (GM) foods must be part of the future of Irish agriculture and food production, according to Leo Enright, Chairman of the Government’s science awareness programme, Discover Science and Engineering.

Speaking on Newstalk this morning at the National Ploughing Championships, he said that people don’t really understand how fundamental science is to agriculture. Farmers understand it but the wider population don’t understand how big a game we are playing in the world, he said.

“In Ireland for centuries we have been upping our game in agriculture to improve productivity. But in the last 25 years it has all been about genetics. We can now understand genetics like we could not have years ago.”

He dismissed the notion that GM foods may be frankenstein monsters. “If we managed to change very subtly the genetic make-up of rice crops we can make them 50-60% more productive.

“We are only doing what we have been doing for centuries – gradually improving the genetic makeup of our crops. Research being done into genetically engineer potatoes that are immune to blight. It could cease to exist. Surely that is something that we would all want?”

However, he admitted that no one can be sure of what the future holds, and he said GM regulation and legislation needs to be very restrictive.

“We do have to be careful. We have the potential to see food that is GM free, but other areas or production can be improved.

“I think we could be surprised that when people think about it there are a lot of pluses for genetic modification.”