Ulster Unionist MLAs Jo-Anne Dobson and Tom Elliott have voiced concerns following the Agriculture Minister’s plans to cut the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) budget by 26%.
They made their comments following a meeting with the organisation’s Chief Executive Professor Seamus Kennedy and Director of Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Dr Sinclair Mayne.
Mrs Dobson, the UUP’s agriculture spokesperson said the cuts have the potential to wield lasting damage to the industry and affect each and every farmer in Northern Ireland.
She added: “AFBI provide the scientific background information to the Department which forms the basis of, amongst others, their negotiations with Europe not least for the nitrates directive and also the annual December round of negotiations for Total Allowable Catches which affect our fishing industry.
“Any moves which constrains or hamper AFBI from providing this scientific data to the Department could result in decisions being taken at a European level which work against our farmers and fishermen, leading to a negative impact on the industry as a whole.
“In short I am concerned that the proposals by the Minister to slash AFBI’s budget effectively drops Northern Ireland’s guard at a time when our farmers need it the most.”
Also commenting Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA and Agriculture Committee member Tom Elliott said: “AFBI’s role in the future sustainability of the industry is important to our farmers and losing key personnel from the organisation as the result of swingeing budget cuts would be a loss to the industry as a whole.
“It’s also a penny wise and pound foolish decision by the Minister as it leaves us open to potentially much greater costs across the industry if and when AFBI is unable to provide the services needed to combat a future disease outbreak or indeed give the Department the scientific background they need to represent the future needs of the industry.
“We are calling on the Minister to look again at these cuts and how they could damage not only AFBI but also the industry as a whole. We all want to see a profitable and sustainable future for farming across Northern Ireland – we want to see AFBI continue to play a pivotal role in that future.”