Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and DAERA Committee member William Irwin MLA has said that Brexit represents a chance to ensure that our agri-food sector in Northern and the rest of the UK, moves toward greater self-sufficiency.
Mr Irwin was referring to figures which showed that in the UK food production self-sufficiency is down 20% over the last twenty years and he also drew attention to the fact the UK imports 40% of its food produce.
He stated: “In Northern Ireland and indeed across the UK we have some of the best growing conditions in the world and the most up to date farming methods.
“This is combined with extremely high standards of food traceability and quality produce. With this in mind we should be constantly looking at ways to increase the UK’s food self-sufficiency capacity in order to rely less on imported food that in some cases lacks these same very high and exacting standards.
“I feel Brexit can give us that opportunity, as we will be at a greater advantage in terms of promoting our own high quality locally produced food and with the current trend amongst larger retailers to celebrate local produce, this could be promoted and built upon to a much greater degree - with the knock-on effect of directly assisting our farmers in producing more food to meet the need.
“Being outside the EU and free from many of the bureaucratic burdens that come with the baggage of EU membership, it is certainly the case that our processors and retailers can source a much greater amount of food home grown within the UK. That is why it will be important that those directly involved in the Brexit negotiations and in the significant task of planning for farming outside the EU, need to progress policies which will promote self-sufficiency and encourage and reinvigorate our production base.”
He concluded: “The people of the UK have spoken clearly on the EU membership issue and it is vital that for farmers we see a strong and consistent approach in negotiations that looks to protect our farmers but also actively encourages food production ensuring that we are less reliant on imports and in turn assist our farmers in meeting the needs of consumers within the United Kingdom as a whole. Analysts in the grocery sector predict that retailers will be moving to source more food locally as a result of Brexit and therefore the opportunities that will stem from leaving the EU must be grasped and taken forward.”