South East Technological University (SETU) won this year's Great Agri-Food Debate final, beating University College Cork (UCC), which was held in London on 28 March.

The two teams went head to head in front of a live audience for the first time since before COVID-19 at the Butchers Hall in London.

Now in its eighth year, the competition had its highest number of participants to date, with 10 teams entering the initial stages.

The theme of this year’s debate had a strong focus on sustainability and its role in the agri-food sector.

In a heated debate, both teams put forward their arguments to the motion that The solution to negative consumer perceptions of red meat is more honest communication. UCC was proposing and SETU was opposing.

Promote the sector

Both teams called on the Irish red meat industry and policymakers to do more to promote the sector to consumers in a positive way, as negative perceptions continue to grow.

Addressing the room, Dawn Meats CEO Niall Brown said that the debate was one of the "best debates we ever had".

"Both teams did a massive amount of research. The judging panel had a clear winner," he said.

The SETU team, led by captain Patrick Shanahan, outlined solutions to consumers' negative perceptions of the red meat industry, providing a very strong opposing argument.

In his closing address, Patrick said: "The solution to negative consumer perceptions of red meat is much more complex than honest communication.”

He highlighted that a collaborative approach between farmers, retailers and policy makers is needed to enable consumers to make better informed decisions around purchasing.

After the winners were announced, Patrick spoke to Irish Farmers Journal: “Everyone was really excited; we were nervous leading up to today and anxious to get going.

"To come out the other side, we are delighted to come out winners. Congratulations to UCC in taking part in such an event.”

Runners up

Unfortunately, even with well-researched arguments, it wasn’t to be for the UCC team.

Team captain Michelle Egan said: “It has been brilliant to research the really topical motions put forward, I think both teams did justice to it.

"It is great for young people like us to have our voices heard by these industry leaders.”

Barry Stratford from the UCC team was awarded the best speaker in the final.


SETU team consisted of Patrick Shanahan (BSc agriculture), Owen Maleady (BSc land management), Cormac Loughran (BSc agriculture), Ciara Leonard (BSc agriculture), Aoife Meagher (BSc food science and innovation) and Maud O’Callaghan (BSc agriculture).

The UCC team consisted of Michelle Egan (BSc agriculture science), Barry Stratford (BSc agriculture science), Edmund Casey (BSc agriculture science), Paul O’Brien (BSc agriculture), Molly Kenny (BSc agriculture science).

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