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The Food Fortress is now established as a unique and innovative program, adding value to food produced in Northern Ireland through enhanced food purity and safety.
A strategic, industry wide program of testing for contaminants developed by the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) and Queens University, Belfast – it has been well received by both industry partners and regulators.
Now established as an independent limited company the Food Fortress network extends to 80 companies and over 4 million tonnes of feed production in a 2 tier surveillance program covering both feed materials on importation and compounds delivered to farm.
An extensive database of information on contaminants has been developed which protects the food chain and allows Industry and Government to work together to better protect both the consumer and feed businesses.
Robin Irvine of Food Fortress outlines the development of the scheme –
“Protecting the food chain and safeguarding the businesses which operate within it is a major priority for a region like Northern Ireland where the agrifood is the biggest private sector employer and the major export earner.
With over 90% of Northern Irelands feed materials arriving from outside Ireland it is important to effectively manage the risks in sourcing materials from the global market and through extended supply chains.”
Following the recommendations of the Industry Feed Assurance Group (IFAG) published in December 2012, the province’s feed suppliers recognised the need for a strategic approach, based on a detailed analysis of risk, and employing world–leading technology and an innovative approach to improving safety for both consumers and businesses within the food chain.
The development of the Food Fortress from pilot to an industry wide scheme has been effected successfully with 100% of feed production in Northern Ireland and over 50% of the tonnage in the Republic of Ireland now covered by the program. The set up costs of the scheme have been supported by funding from government in the form of InvestNI funding to help with the establishment of the program and the development of the Food Fortress brand.
The result is a highly effective program delivering early detection of contaminations and expert guidance on mitigation and management of any event.
Both DAERA and the FSA have closely followed the development of the scheme and they have recognized the potential of the Food Fortress database to help quantify the extent and level of contamination in the case of an event. Protocols are in place for the sharing of this information with regulators and it enables a well informed and proportionate response to be taken by Government in times of crises.
The scheme has been enthusiastically welcomed by industry partners in Northern Ireland with the broiler chicken sector and the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme for Beef and Lamb which has 11,000 members including 1,700 milk producers now requiring its members to source feed from businesses complying with Food Fortress.
It has also been recognized by industry assurance schemes with approval from the Universal Feed Assurance scheme (UFAS) as covering the requirement for contaminant testing.
Other industry bodies are learning from this project and as the Food Fortress becomes more widely recognized as a world leading initiative in the area of food safety it is likely that the principles underlying the scheme will be adopted in the wider field of food assurance.
INDUSTRY RESPONSES TO FEED TRADE INITIATIVE
In a press release supporting the launch of the Food Fortress Northern Irelands Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill said “It is pleasing to note how NIGTA, local companies and our Institute of Global Food Security at QUB have driven forward the Food Fortress Feed Assurance Project to help protect our food and feed supply chain. This will help ensure the production of safe animal feed, underpinning our local Agri–food sector; and it will be an invaluable tool in developing further export markets to support the overall aims and objectives of the Agri–Food Strategy Board.”
Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission speaking at a meeting of feed compounders from North and South of the border in Armagh said “The scheme has proved highly successful and cost effective in delivering a much higher level of surveillance of the feeds supplied to local farms and this has prompted us to include it in our Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Schemes.”
Professor Chris Elliott from the Global Food Security Unit at Queens University commented “This scheme puts the animal feed trade in Ireland ahead in the world. I congratulate the trade on having the foresight to utilise the scientific knowledge and modern technology to carry out this detailed sampling, and monitoring plan.” He added “As the first link in the food chain you are setting an excellent example. This must be followed throughout the food chain, with the ultimate aim of testing and monitoring everything that is imported into or exported from Ireland.”