Patrick Wall, Associate Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin (UCD), has told delegates attending today’s Irish Co-operative Society’s (ICOS) annual conference in Portlaoise that every step must be taken to stamp out the illegal shipping of milk into Northern Ireland from farms in the Republic.

“This has the potential to create a major catastrophe for the Irish food industry,” he added.

“The milk that is heading North has no traceability. What’s more, it is being transported in lorries that are not licensed to carry human food grade produce.

“The last thing that Ireland needs is a food scare of this nature. The reality is that the agri-food sector has the potential to grow significantly over the coming years. As the old saying goes: ‘a rising tide floats all boats’. So the anticipated growth in the Irish farming and food sectors will be good news for the economy as a whole.”

He continued: “Ireland must learn from the food scares that have taken place in other countries. Up to now the agri-food sectors have been good at ‘doing fragmentation’. Moving forward, we must learn to co-operate at all operational levels with both industries.”

Professor Wall went on to confirm that he fully bought in to the point of view that Ireland’s farming and food industries are on the brink of a golden era. “But to maximise this potential food companies must be confident, creative, courageous and have access to the levels of credit they need to expand.

“As part of this our co-ops and food companies must focus on the three areas of animal welfare, food safety and improved livestock nutrition.

“The food we produce is of the highest quality. But we must be more creative in the way that we market it. For example, Ireland does not have a green image: we have a green reality. The challenge is that of communicating this to consumers around the world.”

Turning to the specific of milk, Professor Wall stressed the quality of the dairy products produced in Ireland. “Milk is the super food of the future,” he stressed.

“Irish processors are already proving this with the work they have down in developing outlets for  baby formula powder. But we must build on all of this for the future. We know, for example, that whey protein can offer tremendous nutritional benefits to people of all ages. And, again this is an aspect of food processing in which Ireland holds a crucial lead.”