Finalists announced for this year’s Great-Agri Food Debate Grand Final

Finalists announced for this year’s Great-Agri Food Debate Grand Final

Organised by Dawn Meats and McDonald’s, the Grand Final of this year’s prestigious Great Agri-Food Debate will be an all-Ireland affair as South East Technological University (SETU) and University College Cork (UCC) are set to face-off in London in two weeks’ time.

The competitors who took part in the Great Agri-Food Debate in 2020, the last time the competition was held in-person.

This year’s two teams were judged as the highest scoring in the opening rounds of this year’s leading agri-food debating competition. They will now debate the motion that:

“The solution to negative consumer perceptions of red meat is more honest communication.”

UCC will propose with SETU opposing.  

Eight teams from across Ireland and the UK – seven third level institutions and one industry grouping – entered the highly popular competition this year including teams from Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is the eighth year of the Great Agri-Food Debate, which is organised by Dawn Meats and McDonald’s, with the themes on this occasion focussed on sustainability and its role in the future of the agri-food industry. The event has become a calendar moment for students studying agriculture related subjects.

ETU is technically now seeking to win the Grand Final for the third year in row. The university was established in May of 2022, but it was formed through the amalgamation of IT Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). WIT were winners of the Great Agri-Food Debate in 2021 and 2022. They also won in 2019. 

All four of the early rounds of this year’s debate were held virtually and streamed live over four nights. This online format was first adopted during the Covid pandemic in 2021, but proved so effective that it has been used in subsequent years. This year is the first time the event will involve a hybrid of both online and in-person debates with the final being held at Butchers’ Hall in London on Tuesday, March 28th.

The judges

The virtual judging panel for 2023 was made up of Dan MacSweeney, chairman of Bord Bia, Harriet Wilson, Agriculture & Sustainable Sourcing at McDonald’s UK & Ireland, Tim Rycroft, CEO of the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Isla Roebuck, business public relations director for Dunbia, and Cathal O’Connor, business unit head AIB Corporate Banking.

To reach the final, SETU defeated a team from Aberystwyth University in Wales, impressing the judges while proposing the motion that: “The long-term profitable future of livestock production in Ireland and the UK is a grass-based diet and therefore to reduce livestock numbers to counter climate change is to ignore scientific facts”. Owen Maleady, a 4th year BSc Honours student in Land Management at SETU, was awarded Best Speaker in this lively debate.

UCC made it to the last two by scoring highly in their win against Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) in a seriously impressive encounter, where they proposed the motion that: “An exclusively plant-based diet is neither healthy for planet nor person”. Best Speaker in this debate was Edmund Casey, a 4th year student from UCC, who is reading Agricultural Science.

Despite losing to UCC, DKIT were also scored highly by the judges and secured enough points to finish third overall.

In the other opening debates, a team from the Antrim-based College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise saw off Munster Technological University by opposing the motion that: “Market economies can’t provide viable solutions to climate change”. Aine Poff, a 4th year Nutrition and Health Science student in MUT, was a worthy recipient of the Best Speaker prize.

Meanwhile, PYF a team of placement year students from McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmers programme were judged the winners over UCD when opposing the motion that: “EU climate ambitions will endanger human health.” Best Speaker in this debate was awarded to Ciara Fox, a veteran Great Agri-Food debater and a 4th year Dairy Business student in UCD.

Niall Browne, chief executive of Dawn Meats, said: “The Great Agri-Food Debate is always one of the highlights of the year for our company. It is a superb competition, and we are very proud to be involved along with McDonald’s, our partners. The standard of debating is always extremely high and that was certainly the case again this year. It was so refreshing to see our future leaders passionately examine, research and discuss such vital issues while displaying an impressive level of technical and practical knowledge. I want to congratulate all the teams involved and wish the two finalists the very best of luck.”

The finalists will be debating for the title of Great Agri-Food Debate winners 2023 and a chance to lift the impressive GAFD trophy. Prizes for the best speaker and winning team will be presented  at the live event on March 28th.

SETU team members include: Patrick Shanahan (captain), Aoife Meagher, Owen Maleady, Cormac Loughran, Ciara Leonard and Maud O’Callaghan.

The UCC team members include: Michelle Egan (captain), Edmund Casey, Paul O’Brien, Barry Stratford and Mairead Creedon.

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