Food processors, suppliers and retailers need to be part of a quality assurance chain which covers the entire agri food industry according to DARD's Chief Veterinary Officer, Bert Houston.

Speaking after the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association's annual general meeting, Bert pointed out that the agri supply industry, and farmers here, had all implemented quality assurance schemes. Unless these are extended to the processors and retailers their benefit will not be fully realised.

Office bearers at the NI Grain Trade Association AGM. Front from left: Owen Brennan, President and David Malseed, Honorary Secretary. Back: Stephen Burrell, Honorary Treasurer; Alan Johnston, Vice President and Robin Irvine, Chief Executive. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Office bearers at the NI Grain Trade Association AGM. Front from left: Owen Brennan, President and David Malseed, Honorary Secretary. Back: Stephen Burrell, Honorary Treasurer; Alan Johnston, Vice President and Robin Irvine, Chief Executive. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

The horsemeat scandal had been a wake-up call for the retailers and their change of attitude was interesting - public apologies to customers and letters to shoppers expressing their shock and the fact that they had been let down by their suppliers - but never once did they mention a quality assurance scheme!

Bert went on to point out that a quality assurance chain is only as strong as its weakest link and he cited the dioxin incident in 2008 which precipitated a huge recall in the pork industry, This incident was due to one small operator processing a food byproduct for animal feed. He emphasised "There is always a risk when there are suppliers outside the assured chain."

He commended NIGTA's involvement with the Institute of Global Food Security at Queens "We are now in a global market with limited raw materials and a long supply chain. Northern Ireland has to compete with the growing demand from the larger developing countries for raw materials and also with the bio energy sector. Food ingredients appear in many different products in many countries around the world. It is a high risk business and needs stringent quality assurance schemes at every link in the chain. The agri supply industry is tackling this risk but the food processers, suppliers and retailers must play their part."

He especially mentioned former food products for which no one is taking ownership or responsibility.

It is noteworthy that the share price for the major supermarkets did not suffer, thus emphasising the power of the retailers and their publicity machine.

Bert concluded "Lessons for the entire agri food industry have been learned from this crisis."

During the annual general meeting members expressed their appreciation of the work, which President, Owen Brennan had carried out over the past year, and unanimously re-elected him for another term. Alan Johnston was re-elected vice president in order to continue the support that he had given Owen throughout his Presidency. David Malseed and Stephen Burrell will continue in their roles as Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer respectively.

NIGTA AGM 2013