“In the past, agriculture and food production in the UK, as part of the economy, has not been taken as seriously as it should have been,” Coveney told FoodManufacture.co.uk in a wide-ranging interview filmed at the Oxford Farming Conference last Tuesday (January 7).
For too long, agriculture and food production had been treated as a countryside management tool, rather than a means of feeding an increasingly hungry world, he said. But government ministers should give it full priority as a key means of producing food for consumers in the UK and across the globe, he said.
Coveney made clear this was an historic problem, in his view. He believed his opposite number – environment secretary Owen Paterson – had accorded the sector its due priority.
The Irish minister said his strong family connections with the UK made it important to be “truthful” about his view of food production in this country. Not only did Coveney study a science degree in the UK, his sister lives in London and his brother – Patrick Coveney – is the ceo of convenience food manufacturer Greencore. (Don’t miss our recent exclusive interview with the food manufacturing boss).
‘A new golden age’
The Irish minister went on to highlight the importance of government recognition and the use of the latest technologists to help food businesses benefit from “a new golden age” for food production.
Everyone talked about genetic modification (GM) but, in reality, this was only one high-tech food production technique, he said. GM production should take its place alongside other advanced techniques – such as the latest conventional breeding techniques and improved grazing practices – that would improve efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
View the first part of our exclusive interview with Coveney – where he outlines the factors leading to this new era for food production here.
Last week the Irish food board Bord Bia confirmed Ireland’s food and drink exports reached nearly £8.27bn (€10bn) for the first time last year.