Local and Seasonal Produce: Promotion

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 14th September 2021.

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Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:15 pm, 14th September 2021

5. Mr McGlone asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to promote the consumption of more local and seasonal produce. (AQO 2398/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

My Department has promoted, and will continue to promote, the benefits of our locally produced food and the importance of supporting our agri-food industry by buying local produce. I, and my officials, are in regular contact with industry stakeholders to discuss the promotion of local quality farm produce and how that can be enhanced.

Through the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme, my Department provides annual financial support to industry organisations to support them in raising the profile of Northern Ireland's quality regional food and increasing its consumption in Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. This is the fifteenth consecutive year of the programme, with funding of £290,000 being offered in 2021-22 to support the delivery of exhibitions, fairs, seminars, workshops and information programmes. Of particular note this year, through the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme, my Department is funding a generic agri-food promotional campaign, which is being led by Food NI. This agri-food consumer-focused promotional campaign will support the Northern Ireland agri-food industry as it begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by highlighting the quality, sustainability and high reputation of all sectors of the agri-food industry. It will point to opportunities to source, buy and consume more local and seasonal food.

My Department supports, and is actively involved in, activities such as the Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend. This very successful initiative aims to bring consumers, especially families, closer to primary food production so that they have a better understanding of where their food comes from, how it is produced and why it is important to buy our high-quality produce. My officials are also developing proposals for a new food strategy framework for Northern Ireland. I am very keen to ensure that the promotion of our high-quality local farm produce is a central part of any future food strategy. My ambition is for Northern Ireland to be recognised, both at home and abroad, as a world-class food region that is known for its sustainability, quality, safety and knowledge-based approach. That would mean more of our locally produced food being sold and consumed, both at home and beyond.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive answer. Does he agree that shorter and more secure supply chains that have shorter transport distances and diminished costs, alongside the consumption of local and seasonal produce, are also essential to any efforts to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I absolutely and entirely agree with the Member, and I ask him to reflect on his party's position that we follow the Climate Change Bill being proposed by the Green Party, which would reduce livestock numbers in Northern Ireland by 83% whilst Brazil is increasing its livestock numbers by millions. I see no benefit to the world environment because, whatever cows do, they do it in Brazil as well as in Northern Ireland. I see no benefit whatsoever in importing produce from South America that can be produced in a more carbon-friendly and sustainable way here, and I urge the Member to reflect on his party's position on that particular legislation.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

You are going to have to tell Boris, too.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order, order.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

I thank the Minister for his answer on them-uns' cows in Brazil and us-uns' cows here in Northern Ireland. How will he ensure that local and seasonal produce will be a sustainable business for our producers in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Some of the major supermarkets are assisting in buying local produce, and some of them even have markets in their car parks where people can sell their own produce. We want to encourage those small producers of quality vegetables to have that opportunity to maximise their return, because their profitability would otherwise be low. We want to encourage those artisan producers, and Food NI is doing a tremendous job at promoting that. We have companies now that are supplying Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and some of the top companies in London with our high-quality artisan foods. They are some of the best anywhere in the world. We will continue to support those companies and their development. We have a micro food business investment scheme pilot, which supports the micro food and drink manufacturing businesses, which are processing primary agricultural produce to produce new product. We want to help them to enhance their existing product, expand their range and produce more of it. Lots of work is being done, and various small grants are available to those rural businesses. We have visited many of them over the past year and a half, and it is good to see that thriving microbusinesses are involved in food production across Northern Ireland.

Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin

Given the increase in North/South trade, what work has the Minister done with his colleagues in the South to promote the consumption of local and seasonal produce in the border region and across the island?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

One of the things that I have done is to promote Northern Ireland's having protected geographical indication status for grass-fed Irish beef. I will encourage it for British beef when that opportunity arises. Unfortunately, colleagues in Ireland were not as receptive to that as I might have liked them to be. I think that we are probably getting to a better place with them now, but it took a battle to achieve that. Sometimes, people South of the border might be better looking at cooperation where it is to the mutual benefit of people on both sides of the border.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Órlaithí Flynn, who is unlikely to get a supplementary question.