Blog: Dean BestIreland's visible support for food industry overshadows UK neighbours

Dean Best | 24 October 2012

When Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny arrived at SIAL, the industry trade show held this week in Paris, it was clear the lift it gave to the country's exhibitors at an event that attracts global attention across the industry. It also presented a stark contrast to the UK government's presence.

Kenny visited the stand of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, on Monday evening (22 October) ostensibly to launch a sustainability programme but, more importantly, to provide visible support to the country's food and drink industry.

Ireland has traditionally been an exporting nation but, after five years of economic recession and now anaemic recovery, it is clear industries like food and drink will be vital to the country's future growth (as the Taoiseach said when he spoke to just-food at the Bord Bia stand).

And government support, both financial and visible, is critical if Ireland is to prosper in a global market becoming even more competitive and containing fast-growing countries like Brazil and China that are fast building their own domestic industries in sectors the Irish have traditionally been strong in like meat and dairy.

Mr Kenny was at SIAL to launch Origin Green, a programme set up to emphasise, the Irish believe, the sustainability and quality credentails of its food and drink sector.

The Irish Dairy Board, the dairy processing giant behind the Kerrygold brand and one of the country's most international food and drink players, believes government support, particularly for schemes like Origin Green, is vital.

"I think it's critically important that the government supports the initiative," Fergal McGarry, global director for innovation and marketing at The IDB, said. "In Ireland, we're always going to be a relatively small producer so we need to make sure we differentiate on quality and that's what Origin Green is all about. China, for example, will develop a dairy industry but will they be able to compete with us on quality? My own view is they probably won't."

In another section of SIAL's seven halls were a clutch of UK producers looking to boost their export presence. During this week, there has been speculation there could be UK governmental presence at SIAL. First, it was said Defra Secretary of State Own Paterson was to attend but he had to pull out. The UK Ambassador to France was lined up to replace him.

One industry representative at SIAL said it was "disappointing" Paterson could not attend but pointed to the fact the Secretary of State is set to attend Food Hotel China in Shanghai next month, another key event in the UK sector's calendar.

For the morale of UK exporters, which are used to hearing from government that they will be supported as they look to grow overseas, Paterson's presence in China will be welcomed. Not least with the UK's closest neighbour receiving such high-profile and visible backing in recent days.


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