Leading plant biologists in Ireland have criticised a recent decision by European and Irish authorities on the use of genetic modification in plant breeding, saying they could consign Irish agriculture to the scrapheap of history.

The scientists from University College Cork also say the decisions could damage our efforts to combat climate change.

Last month the European Court of Justice ruled organisms that have had their genetic information changed through so-called mutagenesis are genetically modified organisms and are therefore subject to the same regulation as other GMOs.

However, according to Dr Barbara Doyle Prestwich, a plant biotechnologist at UCC, the decision is nonsense as mutagenesis has been used crudely but safely for decades in food production.

She says much more precise genetic editing techniques are now available, but through its decision the European Court has effectively stymied research in this area, hampered the development of Europe's bioeconomy and jeopardised food security.

Her colleague Dr Eoin Lettice has also criticised the Irish Government's decision last month to enable it to prohibit or restrict cultivation of GMOs here.

He said the approach is completely at odds with Ireland's obligations and ambitions for tackling climate change.

Dr Lettice said the next generation of gene-edited crops has the potential to cut climate emissions in agriculture and boost global food security, like for example through reductions in the use of insecticide sprays.

The scientists were speaking ahead of the start of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology's (IAPB) congress which will see around 500 world experts in the area of plant biotechnology from 50 countries come to Dublin.