The NI agri-food industry has moved on from pushing government to create a marketing body to promote produce from NI, and instead wants to see a new sustainability body established.

Describing the concept as a “key vision”, Dale Farm CEO Nick Whelan, who is also the chair of the NI Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), told attendees at the annual NIFDA dinner last Thursday that it would be a “knowledge hub owned and managed by industry”.

“A new sustainability body would allow us to fully quantify 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,” he said.

It is understood that the concept will essentially involve widespread adoption of carbon benchmarking on farms across NI. If that is achieved, local agri-food representatives believe it could give us a marketing advantage over competitors. According to Whelan, initial engagement with DAERA on the idea “has been encouraging”.

Back in March 2015 the then Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster announced that an NI food marketing body would be established, but funding was not secured, and the concept has gradually faded.

How NI can promote and market produce is a key area expected to be covered in the independent review commissioned by DAERA Minister Edwin Poots and his former Economy counterpart Diane Dodds. Led by ex-NFU president, Sir Peter Kendall, that report is due in the coming weeks.

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