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Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry must be part of the solution on the UK’s journey to Net Zero, political leaders were told at the 25th Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) annual dinner.

Speaking at the milestone dinner, NIFDA Chair and Group CEO of Dale Farm Nick Whelan added that Northern Ireland food and drink’s credentials as an innovative, skills-driven and sustainable sector make the industry well placed to drive the local economy forward, with the right support and collaboration from government.

Held in partnership with HSBC UK, the event took place at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel on Thursday 21st October and was attended by over 200 industry leaders and political representatives. Tesco UK & ROI CEO Jason Tarry was keynote speaker at this year’s dinner.

Nick Whelan, Chair, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) said:

“The biggest challenge we face is the need to feed a growing world population in the most sustainable way. Climate change is a priority issue for Governments worldwide and an ever-increasing proportion of the citizens of this planet. This is already driving significant change in policy, consumer behaviour and customer requirements.

“As a key strategic industry feeding 10 million people, we simply must be part of the solution. We understand that significant change is required, and the appetite for change in the industry is real. We already have solid credentials on sustainability. Thanks to our grass-based feed diets, exceptional yields and the technical prowess of our farmers and processors, we are world leading on carbon efficiency.

“A new sustainability body would allow us to fully quantify the net impact on and contribution to the environment from the industry. Not only would this highlight areas for improvement based on scientific evidence, it would also be a powerful tool to share our successes to date in this area.

“Northern Ireland food and drink is one of the most innovative sectors in the UK. Our firms are advanced, skills driven and sustainable. We are constantly funding innovation and R&D across the supply chain, from soil, to feed to supply chain optimisation, to the application of world leading ERP systems to process, product and brand innovation. We support some 113,000 good jobs across the geographic spread of Northern Ireland.

“This commitment to innovation, skills and sustainability will see food and drink remain a key driver for future economic growth in Northern Ireland, while being part of the solution in the journey to UK Net Zero. Our industry here has enormous potential that can be unlocked with the right support and collaboration from government, and now is the time to deliver it.”

The 25th Annual Dinner was sponsored by HSBC UK. Speaking after the event, Gillian Morris, Head of Corporate Banking NI at HSBC UK added:

“We were delighted to sponsor the 25th NIFDA annual dinner. There is a huge opportunity for the £5bn food and drink sector in Northern Ireland to lead the way adopting sustainable practices in the food production cycle. Almost nine in ten UK companies think that improving environmental and ethical sustainability brings multiple opportunities, and more than three-quarters of companies expect their sales to grow through their greater focus on sustainability. At HSBC UK, we want to partner with companies to drive a transition to a lower carbon economy. We are providing guidance to help identify efficiencies, adapt their business model and take advantage of the benefits of going green. We have a long history of supporting new and established food and drinks brands and are committed to helping businesses to innovate and grow.”