The UK and Ireland are looking at ways they can work together more together to boost the food industries of both countries.

UK environment secretary Owen Paterson attended a UK-Ireland Food Business Innovation Summit in Dublin today in a bid to kick-start the new push.

Hosted by Teagasc (the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority) and the Institute of Food Research, it brought together UK and Irish food executives and retailers.

A Defra spokesman said challenges in research, skills and knowledge and opportunities for innovation were debated at the event, which also provided the chance to identify opportunities to develop a more entrepreneurial workforce.

The UK food and drink sector was an important part of the UK’s economy, contributing £96 billion and almost four million jobs, he added. “It’s vitally important that we have the right skills in place and invest in R&D for the future to ensure it remains both competitive and prosperous.”

The UK exported £3.1 billion of food, feed and drink to Ireland in 2011 (equating to 17% of the UK total for the sector) and imported £3.5 billion from Ireland (accounting for 9% of total UK food and drink imports) [Defra].