2016: What did the year bring for our NI Pork industry?

2016 has been a memorable year – major political movements aside – but also an eventful period for local food in Northern Ireland, says Deirdre McIvor, CEO of the NI Pork and Bacon Forum.

One local food industry sector facing its own share of challenges is the NI Pork Industry.

Neighbourhood Retailer spoke to Deirdre McIvor, CEO of the NI Pork and Bacon Forum, the body representing and promoting local pork which represents over 400 farming families and 2,000 local jobs.

Reflecting back over 2016, Deirdre said: “It’s no secret the pork industry has gone through a particularly challenging time, with a range of contributing factors. Low prices at the farm gate and cheaper imports coming into the UK can make it difficult for us to compete.

“It’s more important than ever for us to champion the ‘Assured Origin’ product in the local market –the quality assured status labelled on NI produced pork. It assures consumers of the quality and provenance of our pork compared to cheaper alternatives.”

With support from retailers including Tesco, Lidl, Asda and Spar [Henderson Group], promotions for the label can now be seen across NI Pork’s social media channels with their series of short recipe videos.

“It’s new territory for us but we felt it was an important platform in terms of communicating our messages to the NI consumer,” Deirdre said. “Our video recipes have proven really popular and we also launched our new ‘food to fork’ series, educating people on the meaning of the ‘Assured Origin’. As more people are taking an acute interest in the origin of their food, in particular their meat, I believe more will seek a quality assured product, which is exactly what local NI pork offers.”

 

Although market conditions remain challenging, especially following the Brexit induced drop in the pound, leading to higher input costs for producers, Deirdre is encouraged by steps taken by the industry this year, such as setting up an industry-wide collaborative network – the first of its kind for the pig industry.

“The network was a result of Pig ReGen Ltd, producers, processors, vets, the NI Pork and Bacon Forum, DAERA and the Ulster Farmers Union, coming together to develop ways to improve pig herd health, reduce disease, and increase efficiency in pig farms. It’s a hugely positive step for the industry and I was delighted to be involved.”

Another major initiative this year was the development of an electronic medicines database for monitoring antibiotic usage in pigs, another first for the local industry. The database will demonstrate low levels of usage of the drugs in NI.

“The database was developed by the Pig Health and Welfare Council, AHDB Pork and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in partnership with us and was wholly supported by the wider NI pork industry,” Deirdre said.

“It demonstrates the forward-thinking nature of our pig producers and the industry’s desire to keep ahead of the curve. I’m proud of the high standards of quality pork Northern Ireland produces. Monitoring antibiotic usage, while collaboratively researching areas of improvement, are bold moves helping to safeguard the outstanding reputation of our industry.”

New export markets are also important to the industry and efforts to leverage new opportunities are ongoing.

“Steady progress has been made in respect to the market in China and it’s been encouraging to have the support of Minister Michelle McIlveen and Chinese Consulate General Madam Wang,” Deirdre added. “We’re very keen to get that market open, but this is not a quick process. I look forward to progressing this and I’m hopeful it will come to fruition.”

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