Students from Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) have been crowned the winners of the sixth annual Great Agri-Food Debate.

The debate, which was organised by Dawn Meats and McDonald’s, took place virtually for the first time this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Six third-level colleges took part in the event and this year marked the first time an institution from outside the island of Ireland took part, with Wales’ Aberystwyth University facing off against Northern Ireland’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

This is the second time WIT has claimed the title, previously winning back in 2019 when proposing the motion ‘Vegan diets are better for people and planet’.

This year’s Great Agri-Food Debate

In the first debate, newcomer Aberystwyth University was up against CAFRE on the topic of ‘The livestock sector can meet the requirements for net zero’, with CAFRE opposing and Aberystwyth proposing the motion.

Debate number two saw University College Dublin (UCD), four-time winner of the competition, go head-to-head with University of Limerick (UL) on the topic of ‘Plastic is not the enemy of our blue planet’, with UL opposing and UCD proposing.

The final debate saw a repeat of last year’s semi-final, WIT reigniting the rivalry with Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) on the subject of ‘Lab grown meats will not replace traditional livestock farming systems’. A fiercely topical motion, WIT proposed with DkIT opposing.

The individual debate winners were CAFRE, UCD and WIT. After careful deliberation, the judging panel crowned WIT as the 2021 winner. The WIT team members are: Michael Martin; Robert Corroon; Patrick Conway; Joseph Maher; Amy Caldbeck; and Helena Hennessy.

WIT team captain, Michael Martin, when WIT was announced as the winner

‘Future of the agri-food industry will be bright’

Commenting, Niall Browne, CEO of Dawn Meats said:

“The annual Great Agri-Food Debate is designed to hear from our future leaders and challenge them to critically think about the issues of today and tomorrow.

I am always struck by the high level of technical and practical knowledge our debaters showcase and this year was no different.

“A warm congratulations to WIT on [the] victory and a special welcome to Aberystwyth University who added a new perspective to proceedings.”

Beth Hart, McDonald’s UK and Ireland vice president for supply chain and brand trust added:

“The debaters from across Ireland and the UK were, as always, smart, eloquent and captivating.

“I am confident that the future of the agri-food industry will be bright when these amazing students graduate.”

Sarah Davidson of CAFRE, Ciara Fox of UCD and Michael Martin of WIT were all awarded the Best Speaker Prize for their respective debates.

The debates were moderated and judged by a range of representatives from the agri-food industry and beyond, including: Beth Hart, McDonald’s; Brendan Gleeson, secretary general of the Department of Agriculture; Wayne Anderson, director of food science and standards with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; Nicholas Saphir, chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board; Niall Browne, CEO of Dawn Meats and Dunbia; and Dan McSweeney, chairman of Bord Bia.