The View from Northern Ireland: The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) President Harry Sinclair is encouraged by the findings of a recent report from the Northern Ireland Consumers Council, which looked at consumer shopping habits in Northern Ireland in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

“The report indicates that not only do consumers have more trust in local butchers, retailers, food producers and farmers than in the larger supermarket chains but that some are willing and able to pay more for local meat. This is a real opportunity for our industry and we need to capitalise on it,” he said.

In March Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill stated her intention to convene an agri-food stakeholders meeting to further discuss opportunities for the agri-food industry following the horsemeat scandal. A promise she still has yet to deliver on, the UFU president said.

“At the height of the horsemeat scandal in February it was left to the UFU to organise industry meetings to develop the opportunities, which the Consumer Council’s report has confirmed are there. Subsequently, at the UFU Dinner in March the Department of Agricultural and Rural Development permanent secretary announced that the Minister planned to convene an agri-food stakeholder meeting to discuss these opportunities further. Four months later, we are no further on and we had expected the Minister and her Department to show more leadership on this important issue."

Changes in consumer attitudes and shopping habits are some of the positives to come out of the horsemeat scandal, Sinclair said.

"With more and more consumers putting their trust in the local supply chain rather than big supermarket chains, as an industry, we need to ensure we are able to cope with growing demand.”

The horse meat scandal exposed the complex and convoluted supply chain used by many of the large UK supermarkets chains and while some progress has been made in changing the current system, much more still needs to be done, he said.

"Earlier this week, [In a interview with The Guardian] Tesco Chief Executive Philip Clarke admitted that a rise in food prices is 'all but inevitable' and stated that 'rising global demand means the historic low prices to which British consumers have become used are now unsustainable."

“Tesco made a number of promises in the wake of the horsemeat scandal including shortening the supply chain and sourcing more meat locally, which they have delivered on to some extent. It has publicaly acknowledged that current food prices are unsustainable and that price rises are inevitable and what I want to see is farmers getting a fair share of the returns.”

The report ‘Food supply chain issues and the horsemeat scandal – the consumer review’ was published this month by the Northern Ireland Consumer Council.