This past week or so has seen farming and food leaders in Northern Ireland eager for the return of the Stormont Executive.
Speaking at the 2023 Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) annual dinner, the organisation’s chairman, George Mullan, said: “Northern Ireland food and drink is globally renowned for its commitment to innovation, quality and commercial success.
“We are export focused and feed some 10 million people. Thanks to the ingenuity and tenacity of our food and drink companies, the industry has grown significantly and remains Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturing sector.
“The biggest challenge we face at present is not just to continue that growth, but to do so in the most sustainable way,” he added.
“Industry wants to play its part in reducing climate emissions. Our customers demand it, consumers expect it, and it is the right thing to do.”
Mullan acknowledged that reducing the environmental footprint of the food industry also makes good commercial sense, as sustainability often goes hand-in-hand with efficiency.
“If we get sustainability right, we will not only reduce our emissions, but also improve our profitability and safeguard our industry for future generations,” he commented.
According to Mullan, NIFDA members are already implementing bold strategies to reduce emissions at both factory and farm level.
“However, with ministers in place we could do even better. While we have emissions targets set by the Northern Ireland Climate Act, the lack of a functioning [Stormont] Executive means we don’t have the political drive and policy coordination needed to meet these long-term ambitions,” he explained.
“At NIFDA, we leave politics to the politicians, but my message to local party leaders is this – we can lead the world on sustainable food production, we can grow this industry further while reducing its carbon footprint, but we need ministers in place to work with us and fight our corner.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union president, David Brown, also regards the return of the Stormont Executive as a priority.
He attended the recent Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) annual conference where he pointed the need for a functioning Executive to pass secondary legislation.
This includes the full implementation of Northern Ireland’s climate change legislation and the ensuing farm support changes.
The UFU is also pressing for amended bovine TB (bTB) eradication measures, which would allow for the future inclusion of badgers – from both a disease testing and culling perspective.