Wednesday, 26 November 2014

EU Commissioner Hogan leads timely UCD EGA focus on Food Production in Europe

EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan gave his first speech in Ireland following his appointment as Commissioner on the subject of Food Production in Europe to the UCD Engineering Graduates Association last Thursday night. He was followed in a Panel Presentation and Discussion by IFA President, Eddie Downey, Director of UCD Institute of Food and Health, Professor Dolores O’Riordan, NESC Director, Dr. Larry O’Connell and Glanbia Director of Strategy, Sean Molloy. As the Commissioner’s full speech by video from Brussels and all of the presentations are now on the EGA website, I will only briefly summarise what they said below.

Front row: PJ Rudden EGA President, Prof Dolores O’Riordan Director of UCD Institute of Food & Health,
Prof Andrew Deeks UCD President and Dermot Ryan Cabinet Member to EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.
Back row: Eddie Downey  IFA President, Prof David Fitzpatrick UCD Dean of Engineering and
Sean Molloy Director of Strategy, Glanbia.

Before the Panel Discussion Professor Colm O'Donnell, Head of UCD Biosystems Engineering briefly outlined the scale of the research priority on Food in UCD. The Institute of Food and Health headed by Professor Dolores O'Riordan combines Agriculture and Food Science, Biosystems Engineering and Public Health Departments into one integrated Institute carrying out global leading research for multinationals. UCD is cited as 7th in the world globally for Research Impact which is remarkable and also something that UCD can truly be proud.

Prof Colm O’Donnell UCD Head of Biosystems Engineering School
on Food Science Research in UCD.
Commissioner Hogan outlined the scale of the challenge facing us 'to feed 9 billion people by 2050 world agricultural production will have to exceed its 2005 by 60%. There are also rising public expectations in the EU accompanied by issues of safety, quality, value, traceability and diversity of food...there are also serious strains on natural resources and the environment resulting from recent gains in food production.  There are also concerns on climate change....the challenge we face is to increase productivity based on a finite resource such as land so we need to do more with less' he said 'all of this must be achieved with limited public support in the wake of the financial crisis and a growing social pressure to justify maintaining such a large share of the EU budget for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). To address this the current time restrictions on production will end. The current restrictions on sugar production will end in 2017 and milk quotas will end next Spring. In the coming months I will be keeping a close eye on rural development programmes for investments, business startups and local development in rural areas'.

'The Commission will work to opening up new markets. In Ireland our recovery has been driven by food exports particularly in the Agrifood sector. In 2013 alone 63,000 new jobs were created in Ireland and agriculture forestry and fisheries contributed 30% of these.  The EU is adapting well to the Russian Food Embargo helped by the new EU Research and Innovation Fund to allow the farm sector to adapt new trends and become more resource efficient.  2015 will be a turning point for the dairy sector.   Medium term prospects are favourable driven by a steady world demand. The main driver will be demand for increased proteins by middle class households worldwide. The main challenge for the sector will be market volatility. There may be oversupply at times as at present’ he said.
EU Commissioner Hogan addresses the UCD EGA Panel Discussion from Brussels.
'I know how important agriculture is for our society, how important it is to provide sustainable jobs in rural areas for investment in the future and producing food to feed the world', the Commissioner concluded.

It was a thoughtful speech addressing the key challenges up front and setting out an agenda to ensure that EU Agriculture will remain a competitive, efficient and sustainable sector. We are most grateful to the Commissioner for giving his time for this Keynote Speech as he faces into his new role.  The Commissioner’s Speech was beamed to us from Brussels due to unforeseen circumstances as he could not be with us in person.  His full speech is available here on the homepage of the EGA website.  In addition, he sent one of the Senior Cabinet Members, Dermot Ryan to be here in UCD in person and to respond to the Q&A.

EU Cabinet Member Dermot Ryan responds to questions on behalf
of the EU Commissioner Hogan
Following the Commissioner, IFA President, Eddie Downey addressed the challenges to food production as the IFA see it.  Over 300,000 individuals are employed in farming, the agri-food sector and related service sectors. Farming underpins economic activity across all parts of the country, and has a particularly important role to play in the economic recovery outside of the main urban areas. Agri-food exports have grown by almost 50% in the last five years, and in 2014, with further growth of 8%, will exceed €10.5b.   Underpinning the agri-food sector is the primary agriculture sector. This remains a low-income sector, with average farm income in 2013 of €25,000.

Eddie Downey IFA President outlines the IFA position on future food challenges.
2014 has been a particularly difficult year for beef producers, as evidenced by the anger and frustration expressed by farmers at the countrywide beef protests of recent weeks. Since August there has been a strengthening of prices in Ireland’s main export market the UK, as evidenced by the increased price paid to UK producers. There has also been an increase in the price consumers are paying for beef products, both in Ireland and the UK. However, this has not been passed back to farmers, who are supplying a high quality premium product.  The future of beef production in Ireland is far from certain unless there is a viable price returned to the primary producer. In 2013, the average income for cattle farmers ranged from €9,500 for suckler farmers to €15,500 for beef finishers. This is clearly an unsustainable and unviable return for farmer’s labour and investment.
The abolition of the milk quota provides, for the first time in a generation, dairy farmers with the opportunity to increase production and scale. Our grass-based production system has the potential to increase output by 50% over the coming decade, contributing to economic growth through increased employment and export earnings.
The expansion of the dairy herd will result in an increase in dairy beef production. I believe we will see diversification within some beef enterprises whereby there will be movement towards supporting other production systems, through rearing of dairy herd replacements.   There is a critical need for all stakeholders to engage to manage the dairy expansion, its impact on land use and the changes that will affect the beef industry.  Support for the suckler beef herd must remain a priority; however there must also be a coherent plan to adapt to the changes in the supply of beef that will arise due to the expansion of the dairy herd.
Eddie Downey IFA President, Prof Dolores O’Riordan UCD Professor of
Food and Health and PJ Rudden EGA President.
There are many reasons to be positive for the future of food production in Ireland. However, we must work to firstly identify and then tackle the challenges, whether in the market place or due to policy decisions, that will undermine the potential of the primary agriculture sector. It is in all of our interests, both economically and socially, that Ireland has a viable and growing farming sector, underpinning a world class agri-food industry.
There then followed a very interesting presentation on Food Manufacture by UCD Professor Dolores O'Riordan Director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health. Dolores set out the global challenges to ensure 'healthy, tasty, affordable and safe foods with consumer appeal balancing health and sensory attributes'.
The practical design approach is based mostly on 'clustered dietary advice' while 'safety is a prerequisite for healthy foods' she said and illustrated that a long food chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The food chain is therefore only as secure as the standards of the weakest supplier'.

Prevention of contamination is critical together with traceability and authenticity with increased need for real- and rapid time detection. There is need for a holistic approach to provide healthy solutions across all life-stages. We need to shorten our food chains, enhance consumer communications and understanding.

Prof Dolores O’Riordan on food science and technology challenges.
Dr Larry O'Connell of National Economic and Social Council dealt with the climate aspects of food production placing enormous demands on finite resources such as energy, land, water and biodiversity. Emissions trading will be the main policy instrument with overarching global agreement on targets and timetables to manage and limit impacts on climate change.

‘With the world population set to increase to almost nine billion by 2050, coupled with an estimated 6˚C rise in temperature based on current energy usage and CO2 emissions, the planet faces food shortages on a major scale unless we make changes now’ he said.

'We need a guiding vision towards a carbon neutral society based on an approach to economic development that is socially and environmentally sustainable' he said and pointed to the leadership shown towards the 2030 goals for climate and energy in Brussels in October 2014 by the European Heads of State Agreement.

Dr Larry O’Connell NESC on climate change challenges of food production.

Sean Molloy's presentation traced the development of Glanbia to become a global player in nutrition and food ingredients with a 2013 revenue of €3.3billion and 5,200 employees across some 29 countries and 130 export markets.
Glanbia is number 1 Irish diary processor, number 1 European producer of enriched milk powders and number 3 indigenous Irish exporter. They collect milk through Leinster and East Munster from Dundalk to Cork substantially. Five processing centres are Virginia, Ballyragget, Wexford, Belview and Carrick-on-Suir.


Sean Molloy Glanbia Director of Strategy on global market challenges.

Internationally Glanbia have a global reach through Europe Middle East China Japan North and West Africa US Mexico and North West countries of South America. Well known world brands include Kerrygold butter, Kilmeaden cheese, Baileys Irish Cream, SMA baby food and Walker biscuits.

A long term growth in dairy products worldwide of 2.3% per annum is predicted with growing urbanisation, Westernisation of diet and a growing global middle class. There needs to be forensic attention to quality and supply chain integrity in terms of food safety while market volatility remains another major challenge.

Glanbia is focussed on tackling the critical global issues for customers - volatility, supply security, quality assurance, brand protection and sustainability.

There is a necessary focus on innovation from pre-cow to post-customer. Sean quoted Winston Churchill in this regard 'The empires of the future are the empires of the mind'.

Panel responds to Q & A
A lively Question and Answer followed led by Dermot Ryan Cabinet Member to Commissioner Hogan. He displayed his total grasp of the EU Agriculture brief and indeed was well known and respected by all the Panel Speakers from his previous work in the Irish Department of Agriculture and on CAP Reform during the Irish Presidency in 2013.
This was a remarkable event which could have occupied a full or half day conference. It was also noteworthy how the challenges mentioned by the Commissioner had resonance in the presentations of all of the Panel Speakers showing that in this area of public policy at least the main players are agreed on the problems and on the possible solutions for the future benefit of Ireland and of the EU.  It also showed a EU Commissioner who is superbly on top of his brief even after a few weeks in office.

UCD President Andrew Deeks thanks EU Commissioner Hogan,
Cabinet Member Dermot Ryan and Speaker Panel.
The event concluded by UCD President Andrew Deeks who thanked the Commissioner, Cabinet Member Dermot Ryan and the Speaker Panel for a superb evening focussed on the challenges of food production in Europe.  He undertook to ensure that UCD will continue to be a world class centre of excellence for Food Research.

Ciaran Dolan Agrifood Consultant, National Statistics Board (Former Secretary ICMSA),
Paul Kelly Director Food and Drink Industry, IBEC and Aidan Cotter CEO An Bord Bia.

PJ Rudden EGA President, John Stack ex CEO Murphy Group, Louise McGuinness
and Killian McKenna EGA Board Members, Domhnall Blair EGA Member.

Eoin Gill Lecturer Waterford Institute of Technology, PJ Rudden EGA President,
Prof Andrew Deeks UCD President, Ryan Byrne PM Group, Martin Hogan EPA Advisory
Committee and Mary Anne Carrigan Editor Engineers Journal.