Further developments to Northern Ireland’s unique quality control system for the animal feed industry were unveiled at a meeting in Armagh this week.
The Food Fortress network is made up of feed producers and importers contributing to a programme of sampling and testing to protect the food chain from contamination and currently covers close to 5 million tonnes of compound feed production.
Welcoming the members, Food Fortress director, Robin Irvine reported that membership now exceeded 80 companies – located from North Antrim to Tipperary and Kilkenny and covering all compound feed produced in Northern Ireland plus around 50% of production in the South and a substantial tonnage in mainland UK.
Members heard of the newly formed company structure and the appointment of a management steering group to direct the company’s development and direction. The role of InvestNI in giving financial help with the set up and administration of the network was outlined and Linda Jameson from InvestNI was welcomed to the meeting.
The partnership with The Institute of Global Food Security at Queens University is a vital element of the programme and Dr Simon Haughey from QUB outlined the research and extensive risk analysis which had gone into identifying the principle contaminants and setting up an effective strategy to safeguard Northern Ireland’s vitally important agri-food industry.
Dr Haughey reported on his review of the 2015/16 programme which achieved an improvement in terms of samples submitted on time to 97%. He stressed the importance of prompt submission of samples to ensure a rapid return of results and early identification of any threats to the food chain.
He reported on the set up of a pilot program for imported raw materials and this has now been established as a key element of the Food Fortress. Importing businesses submit their testing results to the scheme and these are collated and reported to member company’s through the members website. Locally grown cereals are also covered by the Native Grain scheme which was trialled very successfully on the 2016 harvest.
“The key success of this project is collaboration” says Robin Irvine. “By working together, following a strategic sampling plan, and sharing the results our members are getting massively more value for the money they spend on contaminant testing. Our results are also shared with DAERA and the Food Standards Agency and a new “Earned Recognition” agreement is being developed whereby regulators build the industry supplied data into their risk assessments and this is reflected in their approach to policing the feed sector. We are developing much more effective relationships and it is no exaggeration to say that we have the safest supply chain in the world because of this cooperation,” says Robin.