Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 November 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her attention has been drawn to a recent Bord Bia report in which it is stated that 29% of respondents to a survey indicated that they source local food from local farmers' markets; her views on the need to ensure local producers will be encouraged to grow their market locally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30077/07]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I thank Deputy Sherlock for attending the local food conference held in Mullingar last week. The Government is committed to supporting local and regional food and measures in this area are contained in both Towards 2016 and my Department's Agri-Vision 2015 action plan. Bord Bia, which operates under the aegis of my Department, has worked closely with other State and local agencies to exploit the growing opportunities for markets, providing a guide to farmers' markets, advice and mentoring assistance.

Raising awareness of local food is crucial for many reasons, including lower energy demand, an issue discussed during the earlier debate on climate change and energy security, food safety and freshness issues, market potential and impacts of climate change. In this regard, my Department and Bord Bia held a series of regional food fora throughout the country from late 2005 to early 2007. The aim was to increase awareness of emerging market opportunities and encourage best practice in developing regional and local excellence in food. The events were attended by producers, relevant State agencies and Departments with a remit in this area.

As a follow up to the successful regional fora, my Department and Bord Bia recently held a national conference in Mullingar on the topic of local food. This was the first national conference to be organised on this topic and almost 300 people attended, representing producers, retailers, consumers and agencies. The aim of the conference was to raise awareness and understanding of local food as defined by the consumer, highlight the benefits to producers, retailers and the consumer and offer practical information and advice to those wishing to sell in their local areas.

The research to which the question refers was undertaken by Bord Bia and included both qualitative and quantitative research into consumer attitudes to local food. The research was presented at the national conference on local food and will prove useful for producers wishing to serve the local market. It will provide local producers with an insight into consumer behaviour regarding local produce. To assist producers wishing to serve their local markets Bord Bia has also produced a guide entitled Selling Through Farmers' Markets, Farm Shops and Box Schemes in Ireland.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This guide, the first of its kind, provides practical and in-depth advice for small food producers to maximise the potential from these routes to market.

In addition, Bord Bia recently launched Bord Bia Vantage — a centre of excellence for small business, which has at its core a website. This is the first website to provide comprehensive information specifically designed for small food businesses to help them grow their business and build sales. The vantage model is designed to assist businesses at all stages of development from those starting up who require general advice to those requiring a more focused high impact sales and business development programme.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I note the Minister of State was in Germany last month, Mullingar last week and Wexford this week and will, I understand, travel to Rome next week.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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This week.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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He is increasing his carbon footprint.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I tried to take a train to Wexford but it would have left me there for just half an hour.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Perhaps the Minister will take a boat to Rome. I thank him for his response. With 29% of respondents in a survey indicating a willingness to purchase local food, it is clear that farmers' markets have scope to tap this market. However, given that most people will shop at one of the multiples, it is necessary to target these food retailers. While the work being done by Bord Bia is without equal, one of the issues to arise from the conference held last week was the need to build a relationship between Bord Bia and the larger multiples. I ask the Minister of State to be cognisant of this when formulating Government policy.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I am not, as the Deputy may have implied, always on the road. I met representatives of all the multiples as soon as I took office, recognising the need to secure access to market for local producers. We have a great deal of work to do to deliver the outcomes Deputy Sherlock and I would like in this regard. As I indicated in Mullingar, notwithstanding the research referred to in the question, one of the difficulties is that the word "local" in this context is not legally defined and many people are not as local as they claim to be. This confuses the issue.

I will recommend that produce features a harvest date to assist consumers. For example, if a person finds broccoli from north County Dublin beside broccoli from California, it will be obvious from the harvest date that the product from my constituency will be fresher than that from the United States. We need to develop this and other areas to ensure real communication takes place on what "local" means, as confusion reigns on this issue. With 93% of respondents to the survey indicating a desire to buy local produce to support the local economy, it is important we avoid disappointing members of the public. To this end, we must ensure the word "local" means local.