The farming and food sectors will drive the reconciliation that will be required to re-unite all parts of the UK once a final Brexit deal has been arrived at, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) chief executive officer Ian Wright.

He made these comments while addressing the recent Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) annual dinner.

“The rest of the UK can learn from the tremendous progress that has been made in bringing people together in Northern Ireland. And the farming and food sectors have played a pivotal role in making this happen.”

Wright went on to say that food is an issue of national security.

“If you can’t feed a country, you don’t have a country,” he explained.

Rulers of the past learned this lesson at a very early stage. It’s time that the politicians of today followed suit.

Wright added: “During the war years and the period which followed, the average consumer regarded food as a privilege. Today’s shoppers undervalue food, both in terms of the tremendous variety available in the UK and how it is produced.

“The food industry must do more to change this perception. Consumers must delight in the food they eat. The good news within all of this is that British farmers produce a selection of the best foods available in the world today.”

Turning to the subject of veganism, Wright said that the food industry must start to understand what is driving consumers in this direction.

“The same principle holds where the issue of gluten-free is concerned.

“I am convinced that large numbers of consumers are actually doing serious harm to their health, given what they are reading, seeing and hearing on social media sites. Farming and food must counter this with hard facts.

Brexit will pose a major challenge for the farming and food industries. It’s better to get to the right decision slowly than make the wrong decision in haste.

But, according to Wright, Brexit is far from the only challenge that faces farming and food.

“The future use of plastics is one of these,” he confirmed.

“We have seen, in just a few months, an extraordinary change in public attitudes to plastics, and therefore to plastic packaging.

“Since food and drink accounts for a large majority of all the plastics used in packaging, that in turn presents a massive challenge too.

“Plastic is an extraordinarily versatile material, and its use has contributed to better food safety as well as reducing food waste and extending shelf life. Finding the right balance on plastics will be difficult.”