The Great Norfolk Food Debate
As part of the Norfolk Food Festival, the John Innes Centre hosted The Great Norfolk Food Debate, on the issue of GM Foods and Farming.
A GM crop trial currently being conducted in Norwich is aiming to establish if a GM potato resistant to late blight can be developed to reduce the amount of fungicide spraying. Opponents of the research claim that it isn’t needed as there are viable alternatives. The great Norfolk Food Debate 2011, part of the EDP Bidwells Norfolk Food Festival, tackled this contentious issue head on by debating the motion that “Farmers should have the choice to grow, and consumers the choice to eat GM foods.”
The debate was chaired by Anna Hill of BBC Radio 4′s Farming Today. Speaking for the motion were the JIC’s Professor Cathie Martin and Eric Ward of The Sainsbury Laboratory. Speaking against the motion were Lincolnshire farmer Peter Lundgren, and molecular geneticist Dr Richarda Steinbrecher.
Also, there was a chance to view (and take-away) an exhibition: “How to genetically modify a tomato and other things we eat.” The exhibition, which was launched at the British Science Festival in Bradford, looks to discover how GM science is done and meets the scientists working to improve food crops.
Cathie Martin has worked at the John Innes Centre since 1983, is a Professor at the University of East Anglia and holds a chair as Niels Bohr Visiting Professor at the University of Copenhagen. She was the first person to identify genes regulating cell shaping in plants and more recently she has been working on the regulation of secondary metabolism. She is inventor on seven patents and recently co-founded a spin-out company (Norfolk Plant Sciences) with Professor Jonathan Jones FRS, to bring the benefits of plant biotechnology (improving both producer and consumer traits of potato) to Europe and the US. She is Editor-in-Chief of Plant Cell, the highest ranking international journal for research on plants sponsored by the American Society of Plant Biologists. She is the first woman and the first non-US citizen to hold this post.
Ricarda Steinbrecher, Co-director of Econexus, is a molecular geneticist and developmental biologist. She has specialised in gene regulation and gene modification and has worked as a research scientist in the field of mutational analysis, gene identification and gene therapy in university and hospital settings. Since 1995 she has been working on genetically modified organisms, their risks and potential consequences on health, food security, agriculture, biodiversity and ecosystems. She has been closely involved with the UN-led international negotiations and implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety of genetically modified organisms since 1995 and serves on its Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Risk Assessment and Risk Management of Genetically Modified Organisms.
Eric Ward’s work results from cooperation between the Two Blades Foundation (2Blades) and The Sainsbury Laboratory on Norwich Research Park, and aims to solve crop disease problems using state-of-the-art technologies. The group’s current focus is on identifying major disease resistance genes from wild species related to important crops. 2Blades is a US-based charity that supports research and development on durable disease resistance. Where research identifies ways of breeding for lasting resistance, 2Blades seeks to promote their deployment in practical programmes of crop improvement. There is an especially urgent need for the development of disease resistant crops in less developed and subsistence agricultures; this is a major focus of our activity and in such cases, the Foundation distributes its technologies at no cost through national and international agencies or through local seed companies.