Northern Ireland food industry poised to supply to all markets

The top table at the  Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown. From left: Noel Lavery, Operations Manager;  Valerie McCann, Company Secretary; Robin Irvine, Chairman and Claire Garvey, MG Accountants. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The top table at the Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown. From left: Noel Lavery, Operations Manager; Valerie McCann, Company Secretary; Robin Irvine, Chairman and Claire Garvey, MG Accountants. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Robust and effective quality controls in the agri food industry in Northern Ireland are key to providing access to new markets in addition to further developing and expanding existing outlets, Robin Irvine, Chairman of Northern Ireland Food Certification (NIFCC) announced at the annual general meeting.

He added: “To maintain the momentum we have to continue to differentiate our products not only with high quality standards but the assurance that these standards are independently monitored and continually upgraded.”

Visitors to Portadown for the Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Visitors to Portadown for the Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Commenting on areas of business development in the company’s auditing service, Robin informed members that a major item of progress in 2019 will be the design and implementation of an electronic report writing tool for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) 
Food Safety Scheme audit reports.

The principles of this system will be broadly similar to the system currently being used used for the farm-based assurance schemes, and the objectives will be to enhance the efficiency of the report writing process whilst also improving the consistency and accuracy of information.

He explained “This is an area of the business where we see opportunities for growth - the increase in the scale of the food processing sector in recent years has been remarkable and it is an area where NIFCC can further develop their business.

“We are keen to see NIFCC expand its activities throughout the Agri- Food supply chain and are committed to see the organisation develop.”

Chatting at the  Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown were Chris Frizzell, left, Dale Farm and Tom McKeown, NI Poultry Federation. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Chatting at the Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown were Chris Frizzell, left, Dale Farm and Tom McKeown, NI Poultry Federation. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

A further development is the plan to strengthen the management team with the appointment of a Chief Executive to lead the organisation and build on the reputation and profile that NIFCC enjoys throughout the food chain.

NIFCC is a unique United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) certification body which is owned by the Northern Ireland agri-food industry, and operates on a “not for profit“ basis with a remit to provide product certification schemes to the local agri-food industry at a competitive cost.

All aspects of the farming and food industries are represented on the board of NIFCC and they employ highly qualified independent professional people to inspect and maintain standards. Quality assurance which is independently verified, is putting the entire agri food chain in Northern Ireland at the leading edge of food safety.

In the food processing sector, NIFCC currently provides audit and certification services to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard for Food Safety and the BRC Global Standard for Storage and Distribution. The company is also responsible for auditing services for a number of Red Tractor schemes including the Red Tractor Processing Scheme; Red Tractor Assurance Scheme for Livestock Transport and Livestock Markets and the Red Tractor Assurance Schemes for both dairy and poultry farms. Other Farm Quality Assurance schemes audited by NIFCC include Beef and Lamb, Cereals and Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable crops.

Paddy McElroy, LMC; Ian Stevenson, LMC and Liam McNeill, Chair, NIFCC Certification Committee, at the  Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Paddy McElroy, LMC; Ian Stevenson, LMC and Liam McNeill, Chair, NIFCC Certification Committee, at the Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Robin concluded: “We are involved in monitoring and certification throughout the entire food chain from animal feed through to farm, transport, processing and storage.

“NIFCC is also continuing to provide training to the food industry for BRC Food Safety Standards. In the past year we have delivered ten training courses to 105 delegates, including our own auditing and certification staff.”

DETAILS OF AUDIT AND CERTIFICATION SERVICES

Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Scheme contract delivery

Bettina Ruddell and Neville Graham, NIFCC Board and Suzanne Blain, NIFCC, Accountant at the  Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Bettina Ruddell and Neville Graham, NIFCC Board and Suzanne Blain, NIFCC, Accountant at the Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification AGM in Portadown. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

The core business of NIFCC continues to be the delivery of the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) and this represents a substantial proportion of the company’s income. The number of Approved Producers in FQAS at the year- end was 11,700 and a total of 9,489 inspections were completed during the year.

Farm Quality Assured Cereals Scheme

NIFCC has also been administering the Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured Cereals Scheme (FQACS) since 2006. During the year, NIFCC completed 606 cereals scheme inspections made up of 134 ‘Cereals only’ inspections and 472 combined Cereals and Beef and Lamb inspections. Membership of the cereals quality assurance scheme currently stands at 820.

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, 77 transport scheme inspections and 29 market scheme inspections were completed. Currently there are 69 assured livestock hauliers and 27 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. 625 Poultry Scheme inspections were completed during the year and there are currently 570 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. 1,649 Dairy Scheme inspections were completed during the year, made up of 286 ‘Dairy only’ inspections and 1,363 combined Dairy and Beef and Lamb inspections. The number of Approved Producers in the Red Tractor Dairy Scheme at the year- end was 1,841 which was a year on year increase of 83 members. However, there has been a significant increase in membership of the RT Dairy Scheme during the past four months, which has been driven by the ongoing restructuring and consolidation within the milk processing sector, and the number of approved members currently stands at 2,130.

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, 42 BRC Food, 14 BRC Storage and Distribution and 8 Red Tractor Meat Processing inspections were completed.

We are also continuing to provide training to the food industry, against the BRC Standards. BRC published Issue 8 of their Food Safety Standard in August last year and we delivered ten training courses to 105 delegates, including our own auditing and certification staff, in preparation for the commencement of audits against Issue 8 in February of this year.

Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable Crops

We have also been providing audits for the Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable Crops (TASCC) since 2010. During the year, 11 grain stores and 100 hauliers were inspected, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Business development

During the current year, we are expecting a further increase in the membership of the Red Tractor Dairy Scheme, as the milk processors continue to progress towards full assurance of their milk supply pools. The current membership of 2,130 represents approximately 64% of the dairy farms in Northern Ireland. There are also an additional 300 dairy farmers who have applied to the Red Tractor dairy scheme and who are at various stages of the approval process.

Thanks

Robin Irvine, chairman of NIFCC commented: “On behalf of the directors, I would like to thank Keith Agnew for his contribution to the certification committee, having served on the committee for almost 15 years. I would also like to welcome Keith’s successor, Chris Frizzell, and on behalf of the directors I would like to thank Chris for accepting his nomination and wish him well during his term of office. The directors also wish to thank the certification committee chairman, Liam McNeill, and the other members of the committee for continuing to give their time, commitment and expertise to ensure the smooth running of the inspection and certification services.”