Feed the world with technology

22 Jul 2008

The world’s agricultural sector will need to draw on every available technology if we’re even to get close to food production targets for 2020, a genetics and biotechnology expert has said in advance of a Tegasc-led conference to be held here next month.

The theme of the international conference on agricultural biotechnology, known as ABIC2008, is ‘Agricultural Biotechnology for a Competitive and Sustainable Future’ and the event takes place in University College Cork (UCC) from 24-27 August.

Dr Charles Spillane, head of the Genetics and Biotechnology Lab at UCC and chair of the ABIC, said: “The neglect of agricultural R&D investment, in both developed and developing countries, over the past two decades has led to a situation where our ability to produce sufficient food to feed the world’s population is now in growing doubt.

“By 2020 we will need to produce 36pc more food with less water, less fertiliser, less chemicals, not much more land and more extreme weather patterns. We are not on target and will need to harness every available technology, including genetic modification and other biotechnologies, if we are to even approach such food production targets.”

Internationally, a biotechnology revolution is currently sweeping through the agri-food research sector, impacting on the food, feed, fuel, fibre, crop, animal, fish, nutrition and pharmaceutical sectors. In essence, the biotechnology revolution is rapidly changing the nature and composition of commodities towards commodities that are tailored and diversified for specific applications and uses.

“Various Technology Foresight reports for Ireland have identified biotechnology as one of the core technologies this country must embrace. These reports have also identified the agri-food sector as one that can benefit significantly from the tremendous potential offered by modern developments in this area,” said Professor Jimmy Burke, head of Teagasc OakPark and ABIC2008 chair.

Speakers at the conference include Icelander Kari Stefansson of deCode Genetics, a Time 100 Most Influential Person in 2007, and Bob Watson, chief science advisor to Bill Clinton.

By Sorcha Corcoran