Regulators must do more to help consumers realise that produce from “solar-powered” Irish cows is full of nutrients, the chief vet at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has said.

Dr. Micheál O’Mahony, the FSAI’s chief specialist in veterinary public health, is now calling for new measures to help create “more informed consumers”.

He made the comments at a conference organised by Ireland’s only Asia think tank, Asia Matters.

Solar-powered cows

During a discussion on Ireland’s role in global food sustainability and innovation, Dr. O’Mahony said many consumers “don’t understand where their food comes from”.

He told a panel, which included Asia Matters’ chair and former Minister for Agriculture Alan Dukes; Alexa Toomey, head of sustainability, renewable energy and agtech at Enterprise Ireland; and Sean Mulvany, senior investment manager at Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, that “a lot of people think the food chain begins in the supermarket”.

He said more emphasis must be placed on how and why produce from grass-fed herds is better and healthier for consumers.

“Maybe we could transform that into a story about how every blade of grass is a little solar panel, capturing solar energy, where the nutrients are not available to us, as non-ruminants,” he added.

He noted, however, that these nutrients were “available to ruminants and they can bio-transfer them in an efficient way to mammals”. 

“Consumers making choices without necessarily being the best informed choices is something that regulation is looking at,” he said.

Farm to Fork

Referring to the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy, which aims “to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly”, O’Mahony said that Irish farmers should be “shouting from the rooftops, ‘this is what we do’”.

“There is a message there; grass-fed means something,” Dr. O’Mahony continued.

But the senior official cautioned that it wasn’t “really sustainable to produce food in a way we think is the right way if the market doesn’t respond”.

“Regulations are one driver in how we produce food, the market is the ultimate driver in how we produce food.”

Responding to Dr. O’Mahony’s remarks, Martin Murray, Asia Matters’ chief executive, said Irish regulations are trusted worldwide.

“The whole purpose of all regulations is to protect the consumer,” he said.

Murray said that when he talks to Asian counterparts about Ireland’s pioneering food and drink sustainability programme, Origin Green, the response is very positive. 

“There are lots of sustainability programmes around the world,” he explained.

“But when you tell our Asian friends that every cow in Ireland has a passport, that resonates. It is all about the messaging.”

Dr. O’Mahony was speaking at Asia Matters’ ‘Investing in Innovation for a Sustainable World’ conference, in Co. Cork