Michele Shirlow Farm Week 9th Jan

We clearly need to stand together as an industry during the 2020’s as Brexit is completed and replaced by negotiations on a potential trade deal with the EU. While I’ve never seen the point of New Year resolutions, I do think that it is important to envision the challenges and opportunities that this and subsequent years will bring. And this decade looks set to bring unprecedented change in both trade deals and consumer preferences.

In relation to trade, the challenge, will be to ensure that post-Brexit developments do not inhibit our vitally important business with the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland through the imposition of new tariffs and other barriers as has been predicted by many observers bothhere and abroad. And the agri-food industry here needs to work together to address these issues. Regrettably the corrosive uncertainty, which was such a feature of much of last year, appears likely to continue for agri-food in the months ahead.

Our work in supporting InvestNI to deliver the Small Food Business Programme resumes near the end of January with a showcase at the big Scotland Speciality Food Show in Glasgow, the region’s most important exhibition for the food and drink industry. Scotland has become a rewarding market for many of the companies taking part in the showcase and has significant scope for greater growth in both short and long-terms.

Scotland Speciality Food Show features around a dozen smaller companies keen to grow sales in Great Britain, still the most important source of our external sales and a key source of ingredients for many local companies. It’s essential then that access to Britain remains as unfettered as the Prime Minister and his team have pledged. We will continue to work with our colleagues throughout the industry to hold the Government to its pledges. At stake is our most significant industry which is worth £5 billion to the local economy and an employer of around 100,000 people across the extensive supply chain.

I touched on sustainability, another developing challenge for our industry, last week and on our desire to help companies prepare for what lies ahead especially in terms of waste reduction and energy sources. We’ve been looking, for example, in how other nations especially those in the Nordic region have been leading the way in a food policy focused on sustainability. Perhaps the sharper focus on the local industry will lead to the formulation of a comprehensive and imaginative food policy to ensure its sustainable growth. Such an imaginative development could be part of the agenda of any new administration at Stormont….and we certainly need a functioning Executive and Assembly to provide the essential leadership.

Experts from the Nordic region and beyond are now being invited to participate in an open collaboration on the 2022 edition of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, which form the basis for nutrition policies and dietary guidelines in all of the Nordic countries. It’s certainly an example well worth considering. It would involve everyone here in a visionary process that takes into account foods are good for human health and measures to preserve an environment which everyone now accepts is facing serious challenges. This means a greater recognition of the importance of food for our wellbeing and the health of the planet under threat. The planned upgraded Nordic Nutrition Recommendations are designed to make the region the world’s most sustainable and integrated.

Food NI is ready and able to make a significant contribution to this important process.