Ensuring the quality and safety of NI food

Harry Sinclair, left,  NIFCC Director Representative for Ulster Farmers' Union welcoming the new UFU representative Thomas Douglas at the NIFCC AGM. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Harry Sinclair, left, NIFCC Director Representative for Ulster Farmers' Union welcoming the new UFU representative Thomas Douglas at the NIFCC AGM. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

The attractive and nutritious food products that have been available in this, Northern Ireland’s year of Food and Drink, have certainly caught the attention of consumers but ensuring that their production is safe and environmental and animal welfare friendly is a vital element of the marketing mix.

NIFCC (NI Food Chain Certification) an accredited certification body has just celebrated 15 years of providing product certification schemes to the NI agri-food industry. In many instances purchasers have paid financial incentives for these certified and assured products.

Suzanne Blain, NIFCC Accountant and Paddy McElroy, NIFCC Owners Representative for LMC at the NIFCC AGM. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Suzanne Blain, NIFCC Accountant and Paddy McElroy, NIFCC Owners Representative for LMC at the NIFCC AGM. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Outlining some of the successes and developments at the 15th annual general meeting, chairman, Harry Sinclair mentioned the British Retail Consortium training schemes for the food processing sector, 654 new members in the Red Tractor Dairy Scheme and 365 new members in the NI Beef and Lamb scheme. Further business development plans include investment in IT systems and a pilot project using hand held data recording devices to enhance the efficiency of inspections.

Further business opportunities have also been identified in auditing and certification services for the British Retail Consortium Storage and Distribution Standard and the Agents and Brokers Standard.

Harry added: “All of this has been achieved in spite of the devastating fire at Lissue House last June which destroyed NIFCC’s offices and resulted in a temporary relocation to office space generously provided by CAFRE. Our thanks to CAFRE for the accommodation provided at Greenmount Campus.”

Referring to each individual sector the chairman reported:

Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Scheme

During the year, a total of 8,847 inspections were completed made up of 728 initial, 7,436 surveillance, 644 spot-check and 39 re-inspections. The number of Approved Producers in FQAS at the year end was 11,965, which was a year on year increase of 365 members.

Farm Quality Assured Cereals Scheme

NIFCC has also been administering the Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured Cereals Scheme since 2006. During the year, NIFCC completed 680 cereals scheme inspections made up of 223 ‘Cereals only’ inspections and 457 combined Cereals and Beef and Lamb inspections. Membership of the cereals quality assurance scheme currently stands at 966.

Red Tractor Assurance Livestock Transport and Livestock Market Schemes

NIFCC has been administering the Red Tractor Livestock Transport and Livestock Market schemes since 2006 and 2007 respectively. During the year, 74 transport scheme inspections and 27 market scheme inspections were completed. Currently there are 64 assured livestock hauliers and 25 assured markets and collection centres registered with NIFCC.

Red Tractor Farm Assurance Poultry Scheme

NIFCC has also been administering the Red Tractor Poultry Scheme since 2008. 631 Poultry Scheme inspections were completed during the year and there are currently 583 approved producers in the Red Tractor Poultry scheme.

Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy Scheme

NIFCC has been providing inspection and certification to the Red Tractor Dairy Scheme since 2009. 1,333 Dairy Scheme inspections were completed during the year, made up of 227 ‘Dairy only’ inspections and 1,106 combined Dairy and Beef and Lamb inspections. The number of Approved Producers in the Red Tractor Dairy Scheme at the year end was 1,458, which was a year on year increase of 654 members. This increase in membership was driven by the introduction, by several milk processors, of financial incentives for assured milk and the Directors are pleased to report that they had both the reserves and flexibility to respond to the increase in membership applications.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Red Tractor Meat Processing Schemes

NIFCC has also been providing inspection and certification services to the food processing sector since 2009. During the year, 54 BRC Food, 11 BRC Storage and Distribution and 11 Red Tractor Meat Processing inspections were completed. They are also continuing to provide training to industry to the BRC Standards. During the year, they delivered six training courses to 40 individuals, including their own auditing and certification staff.

Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable Crops

NIFCC have also been providing audits for the Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable Crops (TASCC) since 2010. During the year, 14 grain stores and 74 hauliers were inspected, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Business development

The main focus of business development continues to be the investment in the IT system, known as Live Q. During the past year, the main area of focus has been the development of a documentary evidence review system to further enhance the efficiency of the certification process. Further developments of Live Q, during the current year, will include a pilot project to assess the feasibility of using hand-held data recording devices to further enhance the efficiency of the inspection process.

The focus of the business development in the food processing sector will be to continue to promote the auditing and certification services for the BRC Storage and Distribution Standard and also the BRC Agents and Brokers Standard, both of which are potential growth areas.