7th MAY 2020 - Page 55

FEBRUARY 07 2019
Consumers ‘hungry’ for facts about food
HE demand for food facts
amongst consumers is on
the rise. This is partially
because we live in an
internet driven world where
we can easily access vast quantities
however, this has also given rise to
cries of ‘fake news’ and ‘you would
say that wouldn’t you’ cynicism. We
no longer trust ‘experts’ as you can
usually find another expert who will
argue the exact opposite of the first
In 2016, the Food Standards Agency
published its ‘Food Futures Report’,
noting that the public is worried. It
observed: ‘A perceived loss of social
connection with food, a move away
from making food from scratch and
cooking and sharing special meals
together. (They) worried that we
are losing opportunities for cultural
transmission via the food we eat.’
In relation to food production and
retail processes, the report noted
that ‘people felt that as the food
system is becoming more opaque,
consumers are losing connection
with where their food comes from
Michael Bell
Executive Director,
Northern Ireland
Food and Drink
and how it gets to their tables’.
The report also discussed food
waste: ‘There was concern that if
we value and connect with food less,
we are more likely to waste it – with
obvious detrimental impact on the
environment and the sustainability of
the food supply.’
Looking to the future, participants
largely expected that market forces
(including the influence of the food
industry and marketing, but also
consumer demand) would result in
a further shift towards convenience
in our relationships with food. Some
participants welcomed this, others
expressed real concern and a sense
of loss.
According to the authors the future
scenarios explored in research
helped to confirm that participants
neither wanted a ‘return to the old
days,’ ie, involving a sacrifice of
convenience, nor a ‘connectionless
future’. They felt it was critical that
as Our Food Future develops, a
careful balance is struck’.
Our industry in general has not
been very good at communicating
with the public. Agriculture doesn’t
talk to the public – it talks to itself.
This can be very damaging. If
we, as an industry, leave a blank
canvas, the extreme groups will
paint imaginary pictures that we
may find difficult to correct. The
proportion of the population that
has never been near a farm, let
alone understand where their food
comes from, rises every year.
The FSA Report revealed a number
of key findings, and the following
themes emerged as participants
population’s experiences and values
in relation to food:
n A call for balance between
convenience versus connection as
key drivers for how we engage with
n Perceived tension between the
health and quality levels of food
versus the price we pay for it;
n A desire for education,
information and empowerment
around the food we eat; and
n Concerns about who holds the
power which shapes the world we
live in, and who people trust to keep
people’s best interests in mind.
n Discussions touching on
the complexity of global food
networks, or the production
practices that bring food to UK
consumers’ plates, were almost
wholly new to participants when
thinking about the current food
system. Very few had considered
the interdependencies between
the countries or actors within the
system, pressures on the availability
of food, or the link between climate
change and agriculture.
We are working hard to become
more transparent with the public,
What is your current job and
I am a Ruminant Nutritionist for Fane
Valley Feeds – an animal feed company
in Northern Ireland. I provide technical
support to the Sales Team by assisting
farmers with the nutritional requirements of
their animals. I spend a lot of time on-farm,
assessing animals and their performance,
setting and monitoring animal performance
targets, testing on-farm forages and feeds
and ensuring that diets are balanced to
meet the animal’s requirements as well as
meeting production targets.
What course did you study at CAFRE and
how has it influenced your career?
I studied the HND Agriculture course
from 2003-2006 and it gave me a great
background knowledge of all farming
sectors. In final year I specialised in dairy
production which is the area I have always
been most interested in. I then completed
the B(Sc) Agricultural Technology through
CAFRE in conjunction with Queen’s
University, which studied some areas in
more detail. After this I completed a PhD in
Animal Science investigating the effect of
nutrition on the reproductive performance
of high-yielding Holstein-Friesian dairy
cows. Without my earlier education at
Greenmount I couldn’t have done this.
Greenmount offered
the course I wanted
to do as the HND is
more practical than
some of the other
courses available
and Greenmount
was testament to
this through its ethos
of “learning by
doing”. Greenmount
is relatively local
and I knew I would
meet local people
with the same
interests as myself.
Dr Hazel
Fane Valley
What did you want to do when you were at
Why did you decide to study at CAFRE?
I have always been interested in agriculture
and coming from a dairy farm in County
Tyrone, knew I would always like to pursue
a career in agriculture. Greenmount
offered the course I wanted to do as the
HND is more practical than some of the
other courses available and Greenmount
was testament to this through its ethos of
“learning by doing”. Greenmount is relatively
local and I knew I would meet local people
with the same interests as myself.
Do you have a typical working day?
Everyday involves visiting customers with
our Sales Team, checking performance,
testing forages and making sure that animal
diets are balanced and performing as they
should. Occasionally problems arise and it
is my role to resolve any nutritional issues
and improve performance.
What was your first job?
My first job was a Field Milk Officer for
United Dairy Farmers – taking milk samples
for milk recording on local farms around the
Fintona/Omagh area.
What is the best thing about your job?
The people. I get to meet so many different
people from all over the country every day.
Being able to resolve any nutritional issues,
improve performance or help farmers still
gives me a buzz after eight years!
What is the greatest challenge of your job?
Time. Farmers don’t tend to give too much
notice about problems or changes on the
farm that need checked over before their
next load of feed arrives. Thankfully these
aren’t that common and being able to
resolve any problems often overcomes the
What is your fondest memory of your time at
Our study trip to Brussels was a particular
highlight for me. It was a great experience
and we got the chance to visit a range of
farms and different businesses. I gained
a great deal from visiting these farms
and businesses and got to appreciate the
range of challenges that they have to deal
with. Some of these are very similar to
and the Bank of Ireland Open
Farm Weekend deserves credit for
helping to deliver on that. The 2019
event will take place on Saturday
and Sunday, June 15-16. It is
essential that the public learns the
great truths of life: butter contains
milk, and ‘Chicken Kiev’ once had
A group of primary schoolchildren
were asked “where does milk come
The supermarket was the most
around food origin is increasingly
important if we are to challenge
the ideas that meat and dairy
consumption are bad for you, bad
for the environment and bad for the
We must answer these challenges,
otherwise food, which is ultimately
driven by trends, will move away
from our enterprises.
Given our history, passion, quality
and care, let’s make sure that our
customers get the true facts, and
empower them to make informed
decisions about the food they
choose to eat in future.
what businesses face in Northern Ireland.
We also got to visit the European Union
Headquarters building.
Have you undertaken further training since
leaving CAFRE?
Through work I have completed an Animal
Nutrition course and complete regular
training through the Feed Advisors register,
some of which is based in CAFRE.
Do you keep in touch with fellow students
who were in your class?
Yes. Some are very close friends and I keep
in touch with them all the time and it’s great
to have friends with similar interests.
At one point I wanted to be a pharmacist
but once I learnt to drive a tractor and cart
silage I decided on farming and that is how
I ended up in the industry. I still farm at
How do you like to relax outside work?
Milking cows is the best way to relax and is
actually therapeutic. I have two children,
Jack who is almost three, and Grace is one,
so there isn’t much time for relaxation!
What advice would you give a new graduate?
I would say apply for a wide range of jobs
because you don’t know what a job is like
until you do it or what areas for career
progression are possible within that role.
I never thought I would be working in the
feed industry but here I am eight years later
and still really enjoy it.
The College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) is part of DAERA.
CAFRE delivers education, training and technology transfer programmes to
people wishing to enter or already working in the Agri-Food and Land-based
Sector. The College delivers these programmes at three campuses, namely
Greenmount in Antrim (Agriculture and Horticulture), Loughry in Cookstown
(Food and Agri-Business) and Enniskillen (Equine). For more information visit


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