Purchasing protocols in the food processing industry must change according to Seamus Carr, Managing Director of Vion, Cookstown when he spoke at a recent meeting of the NI Grain Trade Association.

Alan Ashenhurst left and Gordon Donaldson, right have a discussion with Seamus Carr from Vion after he spoke at the NI Grain Trade Association meeting.
Alan Ashenhurst left and Gordon Donaldson, right have a discussion with Seamus Carr from Vion after he spoke at the NI Grain Trade Association meeting.

Seamus told the meeting that the company had suffered significant commercial damage from the dioxin incident with helpful but limited recovery from the NI Hardship Scheme from government. He pointed out that only a company with the global strength of Vion who operate in GB, Irish and European markets, could have withstood the financial impact – a small family firm would have been wiped out. 

He said “Food processors need to work more directly with their primary supply chain to identify risks and manage them out. Insurance companies are now querying due diligence within the supply chain and the details of supplier contracts. We have to have rigorous quality assurance throughout the food chain 

 to eliminate risks and bad practise.”

Seamus went on to outline the company’s activities stating that Vion is a farmer’s co-op owned by 18,000 Dutch farmers. Their Cookstown operation processes 21,000 pigs peer week with 12,000 coming from the North and 9,000 from the south. The turnover in the  Cookstown business is circa £150 million with 650 employees. Efficiency of scale at 530 pigs killed per hour is necessary in today’s competitive environment .

He commented on the efficiency of the farmers who supply the plant stating that not many years ago 19 to 21 pigs per sow per year was considered  a high on-farm throughput but now some farmers are achieving 26 to 30 pigs per sow per year.

Declan Billington; President, goes through some of the points in his presentation at the NIGTA meeting with Alan Johnston; Fiona McCord and David Malseed.
Declan Billington; President, goes through some of the points in his presentation at the NIGTA meeting with Alan Johnston; Fiona McCord and David Malseed.

Vion would like to see less variation in the quality of pigs but also stated that there was clearly an onus on processors to work with pig farmers to bring this about.   

Commissioner Dalli’s announcement on the cultivation of GMO crops allows member states to have their whole country or a particular zone in their country designated as  GM free if they wish.  The question for farmers is if GM free would return the premium required or if GM regions would have a competitive advantage. It is also felt that the same ruling could be applied to imports of GM feed materials.

Zero tolerance will be even more important  as importing GM free from a country that also has a GM area provides a possible risk of contamination. Zero tolerance is also important regarding the importation of not yet authorised GM events into the EU.

A letter from the European feed assocation, FEFAC, and EU feed chain partners calling for the adoption of a technical solution for the low level presence of such GM events has been sent to Commissioner Dalli  and Jim Nicholson was asked to give this his full support.

The NIGTA delegation outlined the various factors affecting feed material prices resulting in sharp increases in price. These included the perceived harvest predictions in various parts of the world, and the effects of the bio fuel industry but causing  most volatility is fund buying.

The efforts being made by NIGTA to introduce risk based sampling in order to avoid another feed scare like the dioxin scare and to ensure safer feed and thus food for the consumer were commended by Jim Nicholson.

Under the nitrates proposals it was noted that some of items are of  concern to farmers, yet the evidence shows that the current proposals have had a beneficial effect. The Rose Energy project and its importance in putting Northern Ireland well ahead of target under the Nitrates Action Programme was also discussed.

Declan Billington, NIGTA President commented “ We were delighted to learn that Jim Nicholson is very much up to speed with the items discussed and is working very hard not only on aspects which concern the grain and feed trade but also for the agri food industry generally.”

Speaking after the meeting with NIGTA, Conservatives and Unionists MEP Jim Nicholson said, “I would like to thank the representatives from NIGTA for agreeing to meet with me and very much welcome the extremely positive and constructive discussion we had. As I stressed during the meeting, we need greater flexibility and speed in approving GMO imports to Europe because the current situation is untenable particularly for the intensive sector. Because a number of Member States repeatedly abstain on Council when votes regarding GMO authorisation take place the entire approval process is being subject to delays which is unsustainable in the long term.”