Excellence of NI food security to be highlighted at UK-China summit

Deputy CVO Dr Perpetua McNamee
Deputy CVO Dr Perpetua McNamee

Ahead of the China UK Regional Leaders Summit in Belfast next week, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Perpetua McNamee, who will speak at this prestigious event, outlines why and how Northern Ireland is at the forefront of food security.

Conflict and climate change are harsh realities for this planet. Resources are limited and the global population is rising.

Not only is it a challenge simply to feed the world now, but in order to protect future generations, we must secure safe food production and reduce waste. In Northern Ireland, I am proud to say, we champion the production of trusted, safe and nutritious food for local and for global consumption.  

As is the case for countries and regions worldwide, our water, animal and plant-based proteins are challenged relentlessly by pollution, pests and diseases that respect no borders.

That is why agri-food security is one of the driving forces behind our work at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Agri-food is vital for our economy contributing 25% of our manufacturing sales and employing almost 5% of our working population in farms or food processing.

We work closely with the Food Standards Agency to ensure the safety of that food and with our colleagues in InvestNI to ensure our high quality safe products are then showcased globally. Indeed, Chinese inspectors recently visited both our farms and factories and verified our procedures in relation to pork.

Agri-food policies here are underpinned by evidence-based research conducted within the Department’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, (AFBI), our universities and with many global partners. And, as our challenges are global, we develop research partnerships across the world working closely with the network of NI Bureaux in Beijing, Brussels and Washington.

Our poultry industry, in particular Moy Park, has striven to ensure high standards of health and welfare.

It works closely with AFBI delivering world class research in areas of public health, to help enable access to global marketplaces.

In Northern Ireland, we put traceability at the heart of food security. We have been world leaders in animal traceability since we created an electronic cattle tracing database 20 years ago. This database (APHIS) serves us well in tracing animal movement to control disease and enable full supply chain traceability of meat.

In DAERA, we are constantly striving for improvements along the supply chain. One example is the award winning PiGIS system, created by AFBI supported by the Department’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). Pig production data and inspection findings are gathered at the slaughter plant and sent electronically to the producer within 24 hours to ensure maximum efficiency for the future.

Nearly ten years ago we established the Food Fortress assurance scheme in partnership between industry and The Institute of Global Food Security. It sits alongside a regulatory framework unique in the UK and is policed by DAERA using our advanced traceability systems. And in May this year, the validation of our cattle traceability systems help convince the World Organisation for Animal Health to confer low risk status for BSE on Northern Ireland as a region of the UK.

In order to tackle the global threat posed by antimicrobial resistance, we work to prevent their unnecessary use in agri-food production and the environment. And that is why we are proud of the innovative work carried out by Randox, Norbrook, AFBI and others in diagnostics, preventive medicine and vaccine production.

In order to sustain healthy arable crops and grasslands we must first look to the sustainability of our soils.

We work with industry to provide farmers with a Strategy for Land Management which is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. This will lead to more efficient and effective nutrient management and reduction of phosphate contamination.

It is important to state that the safety, quality and integrity of our supply chain must be secured without compromising our clean, green environment. In order to support industry efficiency, reduction of waste and environmental sustainability, DAERA has entered “Prosperity Agreements” with industry forming novel partnerships to seek innovative ways to add value for both the business and the environment using the principle of the Circular Economy - turning waste into energy.

We are always looking forward. In education, CAFRE works with Queens University Belfast and Ulster University to create a sustainable skills-base in agri-food production, innovation, technology and business skills. Our educational policies ensure that our farming practices are sustainable into the future.

This is the third UK-China Regional leaders Summit since it was agreed between David Cameron and President Xi Jinping since his visit to London in 2015 but it is the first that involves the Chinese provincial leaders and a Devolved Administration. 

This is a significant and prestigious event that will see strategic decision makers from seven key regions across China visiting Northern Ireland. Their visit presents a very real opportunity for Northern Ireland to further develop the excellent working relationship that the Executive, through the Bureau in Beijing, has established.   

NI Executive, Beijing Bureau Director, Tim Losty, has been working on this project for some time and given the period of time the Northern Ireland Executive has been operational in China this is a significant achievement and demonstrates support for the Executive’s strategy for working with regions.

The UK-China Region Leaders’ Summit, in Belfast from 1 to 3 December, will give our food security, academic and industry leaders a unique opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland excellence in food security to a delegation of senior Chinese government and industry decision makers.