JULY 2018 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com The UCD Professor of Public Health explained his proposition: “There are lots of other aspects of sustainability but keeping the consumer onside is key. One of the biggest challenges for Irish agriculture is Brexit and the possibility that the British could start buying beef from South America. It’s a huge market right beside us. Our beef processors have a great tradition of trading with the UK. The British have the same food tastes as ourselves so we need to look after that market and make sure, as far as possible, that it is not damaged by Brexit.” Di erentiating Irish beef Cover Story Dr. Wall also had quite a positive reaction to the ongoing development of plant-based substitutes to animal protein: “I have no problem with that. Plant-based diets can be healthy. If that’s what some people want then that’s fine. It’s not all about being healthy, though. People enjoy eating meat. It is a good experience in terms of taste, flavour and texture. Meat is also a great source of many of the key nutrients that are needed for a healthy diet. For those who want to eat meat, our aim should be to encourage them to eat Irish meat.” Health and nutrition Dr Wall outlined the key issues that will differentiate us from the South Americans: “They include food safety standards, animal welfare standards and environmental impact. Unlike the South Americans we are not knocking down rainforests to produce beef. The big concern for Irish farmers is that while we have a great industry, we need to be careful that we don’t allow any adverse publicity to blemish our reputation. That includes any association with a food scare or any animal welfare issues or even environmental impact issues. With social media tracking everything, it can disseminate information right across the globe instantly. We have to be extremely conscious of food safety and, while farmers worry about red tape and regulations, a lot of that is about protecting the industry. We are all together as a team and we can’t afford to have anyone who is operating in a manner that could damage our reputation.” Safeguarding our food reputation Food safety is crucial, he emphasised: “We all remember the pork scare linked to dioxin. We don’t want anything like that impacting on us again. There is a big concern in food safety about antibiotic use and overuse. Consumers are looking for antibiotic-free product. Our livestock industry can respond very well here because we use the minimal amount of antibiotics. They are essential to treat a sick animal but they are not a substitute for poor husbandry practices. Our grass-based production system lends itself to producing healthy animals. Up to now our beef sector, for instance, bred for weight gain and feed conversion efficiency. We also need to select for livestock that have a high disease resistance. We need to make the most of our advantages. There is regular reference to our green image. That should be replaced by emphasis on our green reality, because it is a reality. Our high welfare and production standards are matched by farmers who take pride in their livestock and we need to continue highlighting those facts.” Flexible consumers Dr Wall put particular emphasis on health and nutrition and their link to meat consumption: “We have a healthy product with lots of micro and macro nutrients in our meat. We also need to tailor our food products to what a diverse consumer market requires. Take a pig as an example. It can have as many as nine different diets in its lifetime. Compare that to humans where we are only beginning to talk about life-stage nutrition. Small babies get breast milk or infant formula. But the dietary needs of infants, teenagers, young active adults and more senior adults all differ. Yet there is no recognition of that in what they eat. Efforts are now being made to segment the population according to age, lifestyle and health. The dairy industry is not just a milk, butter and cheese industry. It is an ingredients industry. There is a demand for different ingredients to be included in the diets of people at different life stages. Compare that to the beef sector where currently it is either mince or primal cuts or hides or offal. There are opportunities to exploit the profile of bovine blood. That is only starting to be looked at in terms of the value of the amino acids, for instance, contained in beef blood. There is, in fact, far greater potential to develop a range of necessary human dietary ingredients than there is in downstream whey products. There has to be room for the beef sector to create far more added value in delivering ingredients for human nutrition. Products for the sports sector, including bio-available proteins, can be extracted from meat.” “Sarcopenia is a condition of the elderly. This is where you begin to lose muscle mass. This is a normal physiological condition and advances at different rates in different people. It makes people frail and prone to injury. If muscle mass can be held in an older person through the provision of meat-based dietary additives, then that can allow older people to live better, more active and healthier lives.” A note of warning Dr Wall also described a new cohort of consumers: “There are now consumers known as a ‘flexitarians’. These are people who don’t buy that much meat but they will eat meat when they are out for a meal or are offered a meat option as guests. So they are not fanatical. We need to keep people in the middle, who are not antagonistic towards meat production and consumption. To do that, we must ensure that we don’t provide reason to drive people from the middle ground into vegetarian or vegan diets. Constant reassurance needs to be provided to demonstrate that animals are produced in a humane manner throughout their lives.” Concluding, the UCD-based Professor of Public Health sounded a note of warning: “We have to be careful that the environmental impact of our dairy production systems doesn’t result in a negative reaction to our food industry. We have intensified our dairy sector. There will be a lot of dairy genetics calves produced over the coming years. That will impact on the quality of our beef. Plus, extra dairy cows will produce a lot of extra slurry and that could put pressure on the environment. The fact that we now have access to China for beef as well as dairy produce means that there is confidence in our sustainable production system. Origin Green has huge traction and we must do everything necessary to maintain that reputation.” 15