The food and drink industry in Northern Ireland must be part of addressing the climate change challenge.

Speaking at the 25th Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) annual dinner, NIFDA chair and group CEO of Dale Farm, Nick Whelan said it must be part of the solution on the UK's journey to achieving its climate goals.

He said Northern Ireland food and drink sector's credentials - innovative, skills-driven and sustainable - make it well placed to drive the local economy forward, with the right support and collaboration from government.

Held in partnership with HSBC UK, the NIFDA event took place at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel and was attended by over 200 industry leaders and political representatives.

The NIFDA chair said the biggest challenge we face is the "need to feed a growing world population in the most sustainable way".

"Climate change is a priority issue for Governments worldwide and an ever-increasing proportion of the citizens of this planet.

This is already driving significant change in policy, consumer behaviour and customer requirements.

“As a key strategic industry feeding 10 million people, we simply must be part of the solution.

Climate change - quantifying impact

A new sustainability body, he added, would facilitate the quantification of the net impact on and contribution to the environment from the industry.

Not only would this highlight areas for improvement based on scientific evidence, it would also be a powerful tool to share our successes to date in this area.

“Northern Ireland food and drink is one of the most innovative sectors in the UK. Our firms are advanced, skills driven and sustainable.

"We are constantly funding innovation and R&D across the supply chain. We support some 113,000 good jobs across the geographic spread of Northern Ireland.

“This commitment to innovation, skills and sustainability will see food and drink remain a key driver for future economic growth in Northern Ireland, while being part of the solution in the journey to UK net zero.

"Our industry here has enormous potential that can be unlocked with the right support and collaboration from government, and now is the time to deliver it.”