It is necessary to keep adding new criteria to Bord Bia schemes – such as the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) – in order to ensure they are “up to date and relative to the competition”, according to the chief executive of Bord Bia.
Jim O’Toole told Agriland that it is also important to ensure that there is “evidence of the progress and positive actions that are happening on farm”.
He said that Bord Bia’s Origin Green initiative, first launched in 2012 and which it describes as “the worlds’ only national food and drink sustainability programme” remains “fundamental” to Ireland’s export ambitions.
There are currently 55,000 family farms that are members of Bord Bia’s sustainable assurance schemes which are are closely aligned to Origin Green.
On-farm assessments are a key part of the Origin Green programme and around 100 independent auditors carry out 650 weekly “engagements” on farm as part of these programmes.
Bord Bia’s chief executive believes the programme has helped to encourage environmental awareness on farms and more sustainable food production systems in Ireland.
But he also highlighted that another crucial aspect of Origin Green is that when he meets a range of customers in the marketplace “they talk with envy about how Ireland is joined” up in terms of its farming sector, its food sector, the advisory services and Bord Bia.
“We call our strategy of Origin Green powered by partnership and there is a national joined up thinking in trying to make the changes that need to be made to improve our sustainability and to tackle climate change and that’s something that isn’t replicated anywhere else,” he said.
O’Toole said that farmers and food producers who are awarded Origin Green gold member status also act as sectoral champions and show, for example, other farmers what can be done and how they “can make great steps forward”.
However the Bord Bia chief executive has said there is no doubt that there are “quite a few challenges” facing Irish food and drink producers and farmers at this time from commodity prices globally which are under pressure and specifically impacting on dairy to issues around European demand when it comes to meat.
“At the consumer end the higher prices and higher interest rates has put consumers’ purchasing power under pressure and then of course we have shifting attitudes in terms of dietary requirements and we have the whole pressure in trying to meet climate targets and new legislation coming into force and that is going to have an impact on farms so taken together there are quite quite a few challenges.
“We’re still dealing with some changes around Brexit in trading with the UK which is our largest trading partner and across the world there are still impacts of re-adjusting with post-Covid and how out-of-home consumption is getting back,” O’ Toole added.
He also stressed that it is crucially important that consumers on home soil can trust the Bord Bia Quality Assurance (QA) mark which “means that the food you buy has been produced and processed by members of our schemes”.
Earlier this month Bord Bia confirmed that an investigation was underway into the use of the QA mark in advertisements and in store by a supermarket chain in Ireland.
Its chief executive told Agriland: “We’ve invested in it (the QA) for 20 years, we know from the research that we do that it has credibility and it enjoys a very high level of trust and it does have an impact.
“It is important that everybody observes that.”