The initiative of local feed businesses in tackling the issues of food safety was highlighted at the recent UK - China Leader’s Summit held in Belfast. Professor Chris Elliot from Queens University and Perpetua Mc Namee, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer with DAERA explained how the Food Fortress program has enhanced the reputation of the whole Agri-food sector and is helping to build Northern Irelands reputation as one of the safest supply chains in world food production.

Recent success in building trade links to China and the ongoing engagement with the worlds’ largest consumer highlights the global nature of food marketing. Food safety and freedom from contaminations is a big issue in these emerging markets and the Food Fortress program gives Northern Ireland a unique advantage in this area.

Professor Chris Elliott, Queens University with Robin Irvine, Chief Executive, NIGTA.
Professor Chris Elliott, Queens University with Robin Irvine, Chief Executive, NIGTA.

“As an intensive livestock region with little local grain production we are dependent on the import of over 2 million tonnes of feed materials to support the provinces milk, meat and egg producers. These global supply chains require robust systems and effective surveillance to ensure the integrity of the materials used and the Food Fortress program – run as a partnership between Irish feed businesses and the Institute of Global Food Security at Queens University and supported by InvestNI is delivering the goods” according to director, Robin Irvine.

“With over 80 feed companies and 4 million tonnes of compound feed production throughout Ireland covered by our sampling network we can quickly spot any issues and assess the scope and scale of a contamination. The surveillance starts with the arrival of imported feed materials and ensures that problems are identified early in the supply chain - allowing us to provide guidance as to effective management to mitigate any risk to livestock and consumers. This is followed by an intensive program of finished feed testing to ensure that feed delivered to the farm meets the required standards. 

The collaborative nature of the network means that every member can share in the large database of test results. The information is also shared with government in the form of DAERA and the FSA and allows the Industry and Government to work together to better protect both the consumer and animal welfare. A recent EU food and veterinary report highlighted that this is actually the only example of industry and regulators working together to safeguard the food chain. This arrangement involves documented protocols around information sharing and incident management which deliver a much greater level of co-ordination and a genuinely joined-up approach to dealing with threats to the industry”

The Food Fortress is now widely accepted as a unique and innovative program, adding value to food produced in Northern Ireland through enhanced food assurance and safety. It’s role in protecting the food chain and safeguarding the businesses which operate within it is of vital importance for a region like Northern Ireland where the agri-food sector is a major  employer and the biggest export earner.