Chestnutt: There’s no fear of anyone in NI going hungry

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chestnutt has urged for calm over fears of food shortages in Northern Ireland.

Images of empty shelves have been circulating on social media over the last two weeks as hauliers struggle to get supplies from Britain through newly-implemented customs to Northern Ireland.

One veterinary official showed documentation totalling six pages would be required to import a Gregg’s ham and cheese sandwich from GB to the EU.

Image source: Andrew Iveson

‘We might not have the same choice, but we’ll not go hungry’

However, Chestnutt highlighted that as a net food exporter, Northern Ireland farms and agri-businesses produce adequate food to sustain the local population.

“We have seen now in two lockdowns that people seem to be more conscious about the provenance of the food they eat in their own houses than they are outside,” Chesnutt said.

“That’s a challenge for us going forward – to get the foodservice sector to support us as well as the retail sector are.

I’ve heard some people saying Northern Ireland is going to run out of food. But I always go back to the fact that we are a region of 1.8 million people with 24,000 farms – a lot of them quite small and part-time – but yet we produce enough for 10 or 11 million people.

“So while we may not have the choice we are used to, I don’t think there is any fear of anybody in Northern Ireland going hungry provided we can keep our processing sector up and running.”

‘Jobs will be lost’

Chestnutt’s comments came just a day after Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show schools and hospitals could face shortages of some food products.

“People can see the empty shelves and a lot of the fresh food that was coming from Great Britain – clearly there is an issue,” Minister Poots said.

“You also look at major companies supplying the like of canned food, they will be based in England. Over 50% of Northern Ireland’s trade is to GB and over 50% of Northern Ireland’s trade is from GB. So any interference in that trade is going to cause existing problems, and we are seeing that particularly in our supermarkets.

…It was made very clear to us by the suppliers to both hospitals and schools that if the current arrangement for supermarkets isn’t extended in a few months’ time that they will not be able to supply our hospitals and schools with food.

In a comment made online, following criticism of his comments, Poots added: “I met hauliers, supermarkets, and processors this week. Jobs will be lost in processing, costs of transportation will rise, a wide range of frozen/chilled foods will be unavailable after the temporary exemption period ends.”