Michele Shirlow MBE – Farm Week Column 14th March 2019

Government must protect our precious food industry from imports of lower standard products


Concerns about the possibility of a trade deal with the US that could lead to imports of chlorine sprayed chicken and hormone injected beef were raised again last week in the wake of comments from Woody Johnson, Washington’s ambassador to the UK.


Since we have what is probably the world’s safest food from our farms and processors it’s essential that we do everything in our power to protect this industry


The claim by the ambassador that the safety of US food is seen in the few cases of food poisoning there was swiftly challenged by Prof. Chris Elliott of the internationally respected Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s University.


Prof Elliott quoted data from the US Food and Drug Administration showing that 14.7 percent of the US population suffer from a food-borne illness each year. The Food Standards Agency here, however, reports just 1.5 percent in the UK annually suffer such illness.


Continuing to protect our crucially important food industry against products with lower standards must be a priority for the Government in any forthcoming trade deals before and after Brexit. This is also essential because our producers will need to maintain high standards if they are to continue to do business with the rest of the EU and indeed further afield.


While lower food prices may appeal to ministers and some consumers, we cannot afford to lower our guard on the high standards our producers have invested heavily to achieve. Government must ensure that food production criteria for imported foods from the US, and other potential trade partners, meet existing British levels as a condition of entry.


Britain, of course, is a huge market for our food and drink processors and it’s important that the future growth of our most significant industry there is not unfairly disadvantaged by the import of cheaper food from abroad produced to lower hygiene and safety standards.


Food NI, as regular readers will be well aware, is dedicated to initiatives that will help our producers, especially smaller enterprises, develop sales in Britain.


This week, for instance, we’ve organised the participation of a group of companies at the Guild of Fine Food’s Fine Food North show in Harrogate and yesterday saw the launch of our Taste the Greatness presentation at the colourful and hugely successful Borough Market in London. With 250,000 visitors a week it is the capital’s most popular market. It’s the second year in succession that we’ve hosted a presentation of food and drink from Northern Ireland at the market.


Around 25 companies, from many parts of the province, and covering most food and drink categories, are showing hundreds of original products. And we’ll have celebrity chef Paula McIntyre demonstrating how to cook delicious meals using our premium food and drink as ingredients.


Our companies will be central to a major celebration the market’s management has organised to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. It’s going to be a really exciting event for traders and shoppers from London and further afield. Any readers in London for the weekend can sample the best of local produce and celebrate the occasion with us.


We appreciate the support from Invest NI for our drive to take the authentic tastes of Northern Ireland to consumers in Britain.


The drive is helping companies develop contacts with key retail and foodservice buyers and also ensuring shoppers recognise that our produce is local – from the UK – and is from producers operating at least to the same rigorous standards as those that currently apply in Britain.