Stable politics and right support key to food and drink sustainability journey – report

Stable politics and right support key to food and drink sustainability journey – report
Michael Bell, NIFDA Executive Director; Ursula Lavery, NIFDA Vice Chair and Russell Smyth, Head of Sustainable Futures, KPMG Ireland.

The continued success of Northern Ireland’s food and drink sector is predicated on securing the long-term health of the region’s environment, an industry-commissioned report has said. 

Produced by KPMG Sustainable Futures, in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), the Balancing Act report outlines the challenges and opportunities the sector faces on sustainability and the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) agenda.

Firms across every sub-sector of Northern Ireland food and drink were surveyed for the report, with almost three quarters (74%) of respondents pointing to decarbonisation as the highest priority for their business, followed by waste reduction and circular economy.


The report highlights gains that have been made to date and demonstrates how NIFDA members are taking action, with 83% of firms having dedicated teams in place to lead on sustainability. Case studies show initiatives food and drink manufacturers are taking – from scaling up resourcing and expertise, investing in renewable energy and setting science-based targets, to innovations in food labelling, sustainable intensification and nature protection.

However, no-one doubts the challenge if Northern Ireland is to achieve emissions reductions targets as set out under the NI Climate Act. The report points to the lack of capital investment support, and the overall political vacuum in Northern Ireland as key obstacles to progress. 86% of NIFDA members surveyed do not think there is sufficient funding support to deliver on sustainability, while 77% believe clear policy direction would strengthen the industry’s response to environmental challenges.

Michael Bell, NIFDA Executive Director with Russell Smyth, Head of Sustainable Futures, KPMG Ireland.

Michael Bell OBE, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) said: “As the largest single manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland, food and drink is the jewel in the crown of the local economy. For decades we have shown consistent growth, and today we contribute £4.9bn value added and support some 113,000 jobs across the supply chain.

“Key to that success has been the industry’s commitment to quality through data, science and innovation. Going forward, producing food in the most sustainable way will be crucial to our continued growth. We know that addressing our carbon footprint is the biggest long-term challenge we face as a society. The food and drink industry wants to play its part, working with academic and research partners to leverage new technologies that make processes more efficient, productive and sustainable.”


Michael Bell OBE said that while the report demonstrates the how NIDFA members are rising to the challenge and improving their impact on the environment, he stressed that the continuing political stalemate and instability is “constraining progress”.

“While emissions targets have been set out under the NI Climate Act, without ministers we don’t have the policy coordination nor political drive to meet these goals,” he added.

“Similarly, transformational sustainability projects also require investment, yet Northern Ireland remains the only jurisdiction on these islands without a government capital investment support scheme.

“The report is an honest reflection on the progress we have made so far, and how far we still have to go. It is vital that we collaborate across the supply chain, and processors continue to work closely with our farming partners, academia and government on the innovation that will drive us forward on sustainability.

“Net zero won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be cost-free, but we will get there with stable politics and the right support.”

Russell Smyth, Head of Sustainable Futures, KPMG Ireland said: “While the Northern Ireland food and drink sector benchmarks well against other jurisdictions, it still has a long journey to achieve long-term sustainability.

“It’s encouraging that our report has found that NI companies accept and are committed to achieving this ambition. However, it also concludes that they need further support and continued technological innovation to achieve this goal.”