Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts has called for the establishment of a Supply Chain Forum, involving all stakeholder groups within the agri food sector.
“The forum will help establish a fully transparent farming and food industry, which is good news for local farmers,” he said.
“Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill is the obvious chair of the proposed body, as she can act in a totally impartial manner.
“It was recently agreed that 2016 will be dedicated as a year of celebration for food and drink in Northern Ireland. And it would be fitting to have the forum up and running by that time.
“Up to this point the Department of Agriculture has taken a crisis management approach when it comes to dealing with the challenges facing the agri food sector as a whole.
“However, the establishment of the forum would provide all relevant stakeholder groups with the opportunity to take a more strategic approach, where farming and food are concerned.”
Roberts confirmed that independent food retailers are committed to paying local farmers a fair price for their produce.
“Every effort is made by NIIRTA members to make it as easy as possible for local processors to be listed in their shops,” he said.
“Our retailers are also committed to ensuring that all the dairy, beef pork and lamb products featuring on their shelves have been produced here in Northern Ireland.”
But Roberts also pointed out that independent food retailers have strategic challenges of their own, many of which could be overcome if more support was forthcoming from the farm lobby groups.
“Our members are at the very heart of the rural economy, providing jobs in every town and village,” he said.
“But they also need help, where issues such as rates are concerned. With this in mind we are about to campaign for a Village Rates Relief Scheme. And it would be tremendously helpful to have the full support of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the other farming organisations in this regard.”