Food commentators ‘as big a threat as market volatility to dairy growth’

Food commentators in the media and social networks represent as big a threat as market volatility to dairy and livestock growth ambitions, experts warned at yesterday’s ICOS national conference.

UCD associate professor of public health Dr Pat Wall said Irish growth ambitions could be impacted upon by changes in consumer sentiment. Some 170 co-op directors, management and senior food industry personnel attended the event in Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise, Co Laois, hosted by the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).

“Farmers and Ireland’s dairy and food industry are effectively in the international health business. As a result we must plan carefully for all potential risks and eventualities that could potentially upset consumer sentiment towards our produce,” said Dr Wall.

“Consumers are increasingly health conscious and this extends to their perceptions of food and the companies and countries who are producing their food,” said Dr Wall. “Food businesses need to be acutely aware of this and this should extend to the establishment of risk management and food safety committees on the boards of our co-ops and food companies.”

Dr Wall said there are many crusaders around the world using irrational logic to question the health benefits of consuming dairy. The fact is that dairy has a major role to play in health-based nutrition, from childhood to older life, he said.

On sports nutrition, Dr Wall said there is no role for protein supplements among younger athletes of a schoolgoing age as their bone mass is insufficient to carry major muscle weight and this can lead to an early incidence of injury involving joints not yet fully formed.

ICOS chief executive Seamus O’Donohoe said: “Creative risk-taking is essential to success but thoughtless risks are destructive of value.

“Even more wasteful is ‘thoughtless caution’ which prompts inaction and prohibits business growth. To be competitive, the Irish co-operative dairy and food industry needs to have risk-management strategies in place for raw materials, processes and management behaviour.

“We have a considerable level of preparedness in place and this needs to be further examined and strengthened as we look to expand the profile of Irish dairy and food when quotas are abolished in 2015.”

The conference was also addressed by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney; the chairman of global dairy giant ARLA Foods, Ake Hantoft; Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon; Matt Dempsey, chief executive of The Agricultural Trust; and Food Harvest 2020 chairman Dr Seán Brady.


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