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Commitment to development of Agri-Food Sector as part of Knowledge Economy

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Brendan Smith TD today emphasised the critical importance of investment in research and development in the development of the Irish food industry and, particularly, in maintaining the industry's competitiveness.  The Minister said that it was important that, not alone, did the industry continue to produce very high-quality food products, but that it did so competitively to ensure that retailers and consumers would continue to support quality Irish food products and Irish jobs.

Minister Smith described the agri-food sector as Ireland's most important indigenous sector, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout every county in the country, at both producer and processor levels.  "The industry is vital to our economic future, particularly at this time, in terms of employment, value-added and export earnings.  The industry is, undoubtedly, facing challenges but has demonstrated its resilience and capacity to adapt to competitive challenges in the past and to build business in emerging and changing markets", Minister Smith added.

The Minister was speaking after confirming that the Food Graduate Development Programme (www.foodpostgrad.ie) was to continue for another two years. Funding of €1.1million was allocated for the initiative in 2007 for a five-year period, subject to a review after the first 18 months of its existence. Following this review Minister Smith has sanctioned funding for years 3 and 4 of the Programme, which is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under the Food Institutional Research Measure (FIRM).

Minister Smith confirmed that developing the Irish food industry in line with the strategy set out in the Agri-Vision 2015 Report remains a priority for his Department. "Investment in research and development is a cornerstone of this strategy and initiatives like the graduate development programme will accelerate the path towards building a knowledge economy. The Programme is helping to develop a skilled workforce to meet the competitive challenges facing the food sector".

The Food Graduate Development Programme has been developed by University College, Dublin (UCD), University College, Cork (UCC) and Teagasc as a joint initiative to provide skills training to postgraduate students and research staff in Universities and Research institutions in Ireland engaged in food research projects funded under the FIRM measure. The project co-ordinator is Professor Mike Gibney, Professor of Food and Health at UCD, and the Director of Training is Professor Alan Kelly, Dean of Graduate Studies at UCC. Over 120 postgraduate students had attended the six modules delivered to date and there was a general acceptance that the modules were of high quality and had substantial industry involvement in their content and delivery.

In welcoming the Minister's commitment to the Programme, Professor Mike Gibney highlighted the need for PhD training to involve the acquisition of skills which will help them when they graduate. These skills must enhance their research capability but they should also involve skills such as communication and leadership and involve important policy issues such as food safety, the integrity of the global food chain and EU food regulatory affairs.

Professor Alan Kelly stated that the programme was a pioneering example of how inter-institutional co-operation can deliver ambitious structures to facilitate the development of structured PhD programmes, which would deliver graduates that combine research excellence with a range of skills of direct relevance to high-level careers in the national economy.  Feedback from staff and students involved in the programme has been excellent, demonstrating clearly both the feasibility and benefits of such approaches.

21st May 2009

Note for Editors:

FIRM is funded under the National Development Plan 2007-2013. FIRM finances public good research by qualified research institutions. Funding is awarded on a competitive basis and projects involving collaboration between institutions are encouraged in order to build up centres of excellence.  The research results are disseminated through the RELAY project to food companies and institutions throughout Ireland. (www.relayresearch.ie).

Commitment to Development of Agri-Food

Date Released: 21 May 2009