Bord Bia’s milestone event repositions Ireland’s food industry on a global stage

More than 750 delegates, including 280 senior food buyers from 25 countries across  five continents are attending Bord Bia’s Global Sustainability Conference in the Convention Centre, Dublin yesterday.

Described as a “milestone event” on Ireland’s sustainability journey, the event focuses on sustainable global food production and brings together thought-leaders including Dr Jason Clay, senior vice-president, World Wildlife Fund; Mark Cackler, World Bank; Inder Poonaji, Nestle UK and Ireland; and JC Gonzalez-Mendez, McDonalds Corporation.

The conference was opened by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD who told delegates that Ireland is well-placed to take the lead on the sustainability agenda, saying: “The Irish agri-food sector has been a national leader in growing exports.  After reaching new highs last year, I am confident that we can see more jobs and investment in the sector as Ireland recovers. The vibrancy in the industry is apparent for all to see at the National Ploughing Championships in Laois at the moment.  In Ireland, we understand that agri-food businesses need to be at the forefront of the sustainability agenda and this has been shown by the tremendous response to the Origin Green sustainability initiative.”

The chairman of Bord Bia, Michael Carey, said: “Today’s conference addresses a key area underpinning our green and natural image and will help reposition our industry into a leadership role in the international marketplace.  It complements our latest, parallel marketing drive taking place this week, with more than 150 buyers new to the Irish food industry undertaking site visits and meetings with over 100 food and drink companies.”

Ireland leading the way

During the conference, buyers representing some of the world’s key retail and foodservice operators – including Carrefour, the world’s largest food retailer; Marks & Spencer; Chinese Dairy company Whaha and Spinneys, the leading premium supermarket in the Middle East and North Africa –  heard how Ireland’s industry-wide voluntary sustainability programme Origin Green, launched 15 months ago, now encompasses 35,000 farms and more than 280 companies, accounting for some two-thirds of Ireland’s food and drink exports. Origin Green sees Irish food and drink manufacturers develop individual sustainability plans that set out clear targets in key areas such as emissions, energy, waste, water, biodiversity and CSR activities.

In his presentation Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bia explained how the Irish food and drink industry has “comprehensively and conclusively answered the call’ to support the initiative that can make Ireland a world leader in sustainability. Origin Green is a unique, national sustainability programme of measurement and feedback, of targets, actions and continuous improvement. It is a programme we believe, by 2016, can make Ireland a world leader in sustainability,” said Cotter. “We estimate that, by the end of 2014, 75 per cent of Ireland’s food and drinks exports will come from farms and food businesses that are on the road to sustainability.”

Sustainable agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is the focus of the conference and Dr Jason Clay, a world-renowned authority on the subject addressed the stark challenges of feeding the world while protecting the planet’s resources. By 2050 the world will have a population of 9.6 billion and need to produce twice as much food as it currently does.

According to Dr Clay: “The fact is, every business in every industry will be forced to grapple with environmental impacts – water, carbon, and the rest – that stretch across the entire enterprise and pose strategic risks to corporations”. He also pointed to growing market demands for sustainability to inform the corporate agenda. According to Standard & Poor’s 500, in 2009 81 per cent of an organisation’s market value is based on intangible assets such as reputation, compared to 68 per cent in 1995 and just 17 per cent in 1975.

Also speaking yesterday, Dan Bena, head of sustainable development, PepsiCo explained that “for the globally conscious consumer, environment and food security areas top the list of important causes for companies to support”.

Gonzalez-Mendez from McDonalds Corporation, who purchase approximately 40,000 tonnes of Irish beef each year, accounting for 10 per cent of total beef exports, said Ireland’s food supply chain and sustainability practices are regarded as ‘best in class’ internationally.

In his closing remarks, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD acknowledged the significant challenges ahead. “Our vision of sustainable growth is achievable. The Irish food and drink sector is already on that journey and the Origin Green initiative shows what can be done. With world population set to increase by two billion by 2050 and food demand increasing by 60 per cent at a time of climate change, we have no choice but to act together to safeguard the next generation and the generations following,” he said.

“At EU and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change levels, officials of my Department and other government departments work closely together to get international understanding of the need for balance between the vital objectives of meeting the food security challenge and setting ambition for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable intensification will be part of the DNA of Irish food and drink for decades to come.”

Exploring all opportunities

Over the last week, Bord Bia-organised itineraries have allowed 150 new food and drink buyers to experience first-hand the high standards and world-class quality of Ireland’s food, drink and farming industry. Some 14 separate itineraries were devised for dairy, meat, alcohol, livestock and seafood buyers from new and emerging export markets including Russia, Libya, United Emirates, India and China. These involve farm and factory visits to in excess of 60 Irish food and drink companies, with an additional 50 companies involved in one-to-one buyer meetings.

Pictured were Chinese buyers who attended the National Ploughing Championships 2013 this week

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