The recent Balmoral Show marked the tenth anniversary of Ian Stevenson’s appointment as chief executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).
It has been a decade that has seen the role of the commission develop in a number of ways, all adding to the value that the organisation delivers to cattle and sheep farmers and processors throughout Northern Ireland.
Take the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) as a case in point.
Under the auspices of the commission, the scheme has helped to deliver:
- Improved standards relating to livestock traceability and animal welfare;
- Health and safety of both livestock and farm workers;
- More effective use of farm inputs;
- Impact that cattle and sheep farms have on the environment around them;
- More effective use of veterinary medicines.
All of these improvements have impacted positively on both farmers and consumers in equal measure.
Significantly, all of the changes made to FQAS over the past 10 years have been introduced as part of a commitment on the part of LMC to work closely with farmers and processors, explaining the reasons for change and spelling out the benefits they can deliver at farm level and the wider supply chain.
As a result, the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s cattle and sheep producers appreciate the impact that FQAS has on the final price they receive for their stock.
It is a genuine supply chain partnership, where all parties are concerned.
Red meat stakeholders
Of equal importance is the reliance placed by all red meat stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland on FQAS as a means of demonstrating and communicating key, production-related facts to consumers and the public at large.
[colored_box color="eg. blue, green"]Looking to the future, FQAS will be used as a core platform in helping to secure the sustainability targets set for the cattle and sheep sectors.
And, in many ways, this is already happening e.g., in driving towards the eradication of bovine viral diarrhea (BVD).
Recent months have seen the principles established relating to the attainment of protected geographical indication (PGI) status for Irish grass-fed beef.
Brussels is currently scrutinising the initial application by the Republic of Ireland to register the PGI.
Once this stage is complete, a road map to securing Northern Ireland participation in the geography of the PGI will be identified by the beef sectors and government departments on the island of Ireland.
The challenge of getting us there is now being actively addressed by all the competent parties.
Participation in PGI promotion
In Northern Ireland, a working group, comprising representatives from LMC, industry partners, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the College of Food, Agriculture and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), is working through the process for verification of the criteria that haa already been identified as being in critical in making the grass-fed PGI a reality.
But, already, it is clear that collection of the on-farm information, which FQAS can deliver, will be critically important in delivering the success of the project.
Moreover, it is also clear that the assurance scheme inspections can be easily enhanced in order to provide additional information, which will be needed to help inform the carbon credentials of FQAS farmers in Northern Ireland.
LMC cooperation with schools
Another success secured by LMC over the past 10 years has been the development of its working relationship with schools.
The current academic year will see the commission hosting 375 school cookery demonstrations in post primary schools across Northern Ireland.
This fact is impressive enough in its own right. But it merely represents the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to assessing the scope of the relationship that LMC enjoys with teachers and those charged with the education of tomorrow’s consumers.
The 375 figure is significant in that it represents the maximum number of cookery demonstrations that the commission can logistically cater for, in any single academic year.
But adding to its significance is the fact that a demand of this magnitude at school level, reflects the strong trust that teachers have in LMC delivering impartial information regarding the important role of beef and lamb within a balanced diet.
Recent years have also seen aspects of FQAS referenced at GCSE level, and the scheme is included as a formal element of the curriculum for A Level students studying nutrition and food science.
Students must be able to identify the NIFQA logo and demonstrate understanding of its purpose and application.
Credibility of LMC
The universally accepted credibility of LMC has been at the heart of all these developments.
And in a modern world where such a virtue is as hard to find as hens’ teeth, this is a state of affairs that should give farmers and processors tremendous assurance regarding the role that the commission plays on their behalf.
Brexit is now a reality and significant change is coming, where the delivery of future support mechanisms for the beef and lamb sectors is concerned.
Significantly, LMC has been to the fore in funding critically important research, aimed at assessing the support options that will best deliver for local livestock producers, in a world where securing sustainability for both farmers and consumers will be the main priority.
Projects of this nature have always been developed in conjunction with other industry stakeholders, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association.
Such an approach has served to put Northern Ireland farmers ahead of the curve, when it comes to determining their futures.
The most recent initiative of this kind was LMC’s commissioning of the Andersons Centre to review the post-Brexit support options for Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep sector.
This followed on from stakeholder engagement work carried out in 2018 by DAERA.
The end result was the identification of a cohesive policy framework for beef and sheep, much of which was referenced in the ‘Future Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio’, recently published by Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots.
LMC and price reporting
Price reporting has been an important activity undertaken by the commission since its inception.
As part of this remit, the organisation was responsible for computing and communicating Northern Ireland’s official deadweight cattle prices to the European Commission in Brussels.
This role is now undertaken in a UK context and the transparency and independence that LMC brings to its market intelligence and analysis work, is well recognised and valued by stakeholders.
LMC has also been to the fore in getting access for Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured beef and lamb to a range of countries around the world.
The last decade has seen significant new opportunities open up in Hong Kong, Canada, the Philippines, Japan, South Africa and US.
The last decade has also thrown up a number of specific opportunities, the realisation of which required the bespoke input of LMC. Chief among these was Northern Ireland’s securing of 'BSE Negligible Risk Status' in 2017.
Not only did the commission pay the submission fee to the accrediting body – the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) – staff also played a key role in developing the overall submission that was officially presented on behalf of the local beef industry.
LMC is funded by a levy paid in equal measure by farmers and red meat processers. The recent history of the organisation confirms its ability to deliver in spades for its ‘stakeholders’.