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Refections from EU ministers' meeting

Published on 17th June 2013

Owen PatersonAgricultural journalists and professional communicators from the 17 member countries of the EU and the European Network of Agricultural Journalists (ENAJ) took full advantage of the unique opportunity to meet and interview agriculture officials, including Britain's Secretary of State, Owen Paterson (pictured) during the informal ministers’ council meeting in Dublin.

“The Irish Guild, in conjunction with DG Agri, deserves a lot of praise for organising such an impressive and well-thought out trip,” says Adrian Bell, the British Guild’s ENAJ representative.

“All delegates – from Finland in the north to Spain in the south – said they'd learnt a lot about the forward-thinking, ambitious nature of the Irish agricultural sector and its determination to carve out a clear positioning for their produce, not just on domestic markets but in export markets too,” he adds. “And the opportunity to 'meet your minister' was enthusiastically grasped, with all delegates managing to secure interviews and/or discussions with their country representatives.”

After a Taste of Ireland dinner and overview of the Irish food and drinks industry, delegates headed to Dublin Castle the next morning to prepare for a visit a successful dairy farm, then a research farm run by Teagasc, Ireland's farming advisory service.

A presentation on work to increase productivity while reducing the carbon footprint of dairy farming preceded the arrival of Ministers and representatives of the European Parliament for the informal get-together with journalists.

A busy day was rounded off with dinner at the National Gallery of Ireland, sponsored by Glanbia, Ireland's largest dairy processor, with the finale to the event being the agriculture ministers' press conference after a general assembly meeting of ENAJ to plan future visits.

ENAJ Dublin 2013

Roger Trewhella, a Friend of the Guild with agency Adela Booth, was selected through the Guild for a place on the trip.

He took the opportunity to quiz Owen Paterson on the badger cull (particularly pertinent given Ireland's success with bTB control), while Adrian tackled him about Ireland's adoption of its 'Origin Green' sustainability programme, its clear research and productivity strategies, and Britain's soon-to-be-launched agri-tech strategy.

Roger says: “The opportunity to attend the informal Council of Ministers meeting in Dublin was too tempting an offer to refuse. It was the mid-1980s since I was last involved with European agri-politics, and many years since my last visit to Brussels in 1990.

“For all that, my interest in the European experiment and my fascination with the peoples of Europe has never waned. The prospect of seeing the European circus in operation again, coupled with the opportunity to put the Irish expansionist plans for dairying into context, was both enticing and exciting for me. I was still pleasantly surprised to be selected when so many full-time hacks could have won a place.

“The opportunity to walk around a field and have discussions with Ministers of Agriculture from 28 countries – Malta was represented too – or MEPs with an agricultural responsibility, was invaluable. Just as significant was the chance to talk to journalists from other countries about their agriculture, and how they view the UK both agriculturally and politically. In general, there was real sadness about the UK’s apparent attitude, always negative and carping.

“Interestingly, the Irish Farmers Journal representative was in no doubt that UK dairy farming has been through such a pummelling that there is no way back; Ireland has written-off any threat from UK production!

“Ireland was of special interest to me because of cattle and Areas of Natural Constraint (Less Favoured Areas to you and me; and therein lies an annoyance, why does the EU constantly feel the need to change its jargon). Greece in 2014, for example, will be of less interest as the bias will be on Mediterranean production; equally, on an international visit in 2010 I was challenged from all sides about the Elgin Marbles. Austerity and economic collapse could lead to an even more hostile reception!

“I certainly recommend that more UK journalists should attend, although be selective about choosing a meeting to match one’s particular interests.”

Adrian Bell notes: “DG AGRI still runs press trips outside of the ENAJ structure, so British Guild members who would like to receive an invitation to those (venues have included Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Latvia, Portugal) need to be registered with an up-to-date profile on the Ag-Press journalist website.”

ENAJ Dublin 2013 Roger Trewhella (left)

It's not all work: Roger Trewhella (left) enjoying the craic at Dublin's Temple Bar with (from left) journalists Frida Jonsson (Sweden), Martina Valentini (Italy) and Jesus Colmenarejo (Spain).

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