The Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (NIBL FQAS) will be the “saviour” for farmers once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in the wake of the Brexit vote.
This, according to Professor Patrick Wall, Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin (UCD), who was key note speaker during the 25th anniversary celebration of the NIBL FQAS, hosted by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) in the La Mon Hotel, Belfast on November 7th.
Over the last 25 years, the NIBL FQAS has received great support from farmers and processors alike and has ensured Northern Irish beef and lamb is able to compete on a global platform – something Professor Wall claims is set to continue well into the future due to the high standards of locally produced beef and lamb.
Professor Wall said: “At the top end of the market the British consumer has got used to seeing the country of origin, it being produced in Britain, quality assurance and good animal welfare standards and that’s four aces that you have to continue to play. If you thought the scheme was important in the last 25 years, as we go forward it will be more important because it will be a point of differentiation for yourselves.
“I think the challenge following Brexit will be to drive home that we’ve got something special and that we have a premium product. You often get people talking about the green image of Northern Ireland. I think you should stop talking about the green image of Northern Ireland because it’s not an image, it’s a green reality.
“I wish the scheme success and for the farmers, the scheme is going to be the saviour,” he concluded.
Echoing Professor Wall’s views, Conall Donnelly, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA) said: “The FQAS is one of the cornerstones of the Northern Ireland beef and lamb industry’s product offering. It gives consumers confidence that their meat is produced to the highest standards. In a future where the UK market could be open to greater global competition, our high standards and values will play a crucial role in maintaining the loyalty of UK retailers and consumers whose support for FQAS and Red Tractor standards remain a vital feature of the market.”
Gerard McGivern, LMC chairman, also commented: “With a provenance stretching over a quarter of a century, NIBL FQAS really does tick every box for the consumer: provable traceability, animal welfare and the highest environmental standards, all of which have succeeded in giving customers total confidence in the beef and lamb they are buying.
“We were delighted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NIBL FQAS with our industry stakeholders, scheme members and customers. We look forward to the next 25 years in developing our assurance programme and to meeting the needs of the industry and customers in the years to come.”
Elsewhere, Ian Stevenson, LMC chief executive, said: “As chairman of the NIBL FQAS board, I have the privilege of working with an excellent group of industry and government stakeholders who have had the foresight to link up our FQAS programme through the entire value chain including animal feed supply, farm assurance, livestock markets, livestock transport, meat processing to point of sale in retail and food service.
“As with all membership organisations, it is the members that sustain it and at the heart of FQAS are our farmers, many of whom have been with us for 25 years. Without their passion and commitment to producing the highest quality beef and lamb we wouldn’t have come this far.”
Claiming that farmers should be “proud” of the role they have played in the scheme Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President Barclay Bell said: “Beef and sheep producers in Northern Ireland can be proud that they have played a crucial role in the development of a quality assurance scheme which has world leading standards.
“Over the past 25 years the scheme has enabled red meat produced locally to develop a strong reputation for quality in the UK and international markets ensuring that our products find their way to the best paying markets.
“Reports published recently by both AFBI and the LMC highlighted the significant risks there are to the local cattle and sheep industry due to a number of possible outcomes from the Brexit negotiations. Whatever the outcome, our industry needs to be in the right place to adapt. Continuing to utilise and improve the marketability of our produce through the NI Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme will be key to the industry’s success.”