Retailers in this country are very good at highlighting the story of the farmers behind their products but they need to ensure that those farmers get a fair price for their produce, said Deirdre O’Shea, executive director of Agri Aware. It celebrated its 20th anniversary at a snow-surrounded event in Dublin Zoo on Sunday morning last.

The executive director pointed to independent consumer research carried out on behalf of Agri Aware by Ipsos MRBI which revealed strong support among the Irish public for legislation to ensure that farmers receive a fair price from supermarkets.

Over 1,000 adults were surveyed around the country, said the Laois woman whose family is in the pig farming business. Almost 90% of respondents said they were in favour of the introduction of legislation to ensure a fair price for farmers from supermarkets.

“The IFA recently highlighted the practices of mislabelling and unsustainable discounting, to lure consumers,” the Agri Aware executive director said.

The survey, she said, found that 95% of people questioned agreed that Irish farmers played an important role in the Irish economy, while 89% believed that they provided quality, safe, traceable food at an affordable price for Irish consumers.

“Agri Aware runs a campaign to communicate the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for everyone, not just farmers. We highlight that it makes quality traceable food with high welfare standards available at affordable prices,” O’Shea said.

“Another key statistic is that 87% felt the standards of food production in the EU are considered to be higher than in the rest of the world. The outcome of this research is very positive. Agri Aware asked the same questions when it started out, and it is great to see an improvement on the figures. For us, it is an indication that the work we are doing is paying off,” she said.

“The reason that Agri Aware was set up was to provide an independent voice for farmers and to act as an independent educational body that would ensure that the general public was correctly educated about the wider agri food industry.

The access we have to the highest quality food, is as a result of the work of Irish farmers. One in eight jobs is in the agri food sector, so it is hugely important to the economy, and that is very much a message we communicate.

Agri Aware works extensively with schools, and the children it worked with 20 years ago are now decision-making consumers, O’Shea said. “We will continue this work with schools into the future.”

While issues such as the growing number of vegans and Brexit are challenges, Agri Aware’s concept remains the same, she said. “It is about how we shape our messaging to address the current challenges. Now with Brexit and trade deals, it’s more important than ever that we as a society recognise the importance of our agri food industry.

“Brexit is outside our control but it highlights the importance of continuing to spread the positive message of the quality of Irish food. Ireland’s green image is a green reality. We are producing the best-quality food because of our grass-fed beef and dairy system and it’s important that we continue to tell consumers about that,” said O’Shea.

One of the ways Agri Aware is getting the message across is through its two-week Christmas radio advertising campaign with Micheal O Muircheartaigh, highlighting the importance of buying Irish and supporting local farmers.

At a time of year when so many people are out shopping for food, it’s important that we get the message across to everyone. It’s unsustainable to continue to produce food and not receive a fair price. There are very few brussels sprouts growers left in the country as a result of this problem.

“If massive discounting continues, our choice of food will be limited, and there will be less farmers – the primary producers will be pushed out of business. There needs to be sustainability for everyone across the supply chain.”

Over the next year, Agri Aware plans to continue its collaboration with Fota Wildlife Park. “We relocated our educational garden from Bloom to Fota, and are developing educational programmes in conjunction with the team there,” said O’Shea.

Agri Aware’s farm at Dublin Zoo will continue to be developed, she said. “It is a fantastic farm-in-the city facility, and very important for exposing urban families to farms. We will have a variety of events there over the next year.”

Agri Aware’s CAP awareness campaign will continue to be rolled out in 2018 and there will be a presence at Bloom and other key events throughout 2018, said the Agri Aware executive director.

“We are always looking for platforms to communicate with people, particularly urban audiences. We want to bridge the urban/rural divide. As part of our strategy, we are engaging with well known personalities such as: Tomas O Se; Sean O’Brien; and Micheal O Muircheartaigh, who are credible voices behind our messages.”