The View from Northern Ireland: Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today said the high-quality and safety of food and agri-food products from the North, underpinned by livestock and crop traceability, are the vital ingredients for export success.

The minister was speaking at the 4th Sino-European Agricultural Conference in Ningxia, China, in which she was one of the keynote speakers.

Despite the obvious differences in scale between the north of Ireland and China, agriculture is so important to both our regions and this is an excellent opportunity to explore areas of shared interest,” she said. “Together we can achieve mutual benefit through trade, exchange and collaboration and I am committed to spreading the message about the strength and integrity of the agri-food industry in the north of Ireland.”

Minister O’Neill outlined that she was committed to the maintenance of high standards of food chain information, animal health and robust livestock traceability systems.

“There is a clear emphasis on traceability at the heart of our production and processing and I recognise that a joined up, safe and efficient food supply is essential to achieve our goals in terms of a sustainable and thriving agri-food industry. An effective food chain involves all partners, from the farmers to the consumer, and is designed to provide our customers with clear, reliable information about the food they eat.”

Reinforcing the importance of the agri-food industry to the north’s economy, Minister O’Neill stated: “In spite of a difficult global economic climate in recent years, our agri-food industry has continued to grow with sales rising from £3.75bn per annum to over £4bn in the past two years. These figures demonstrate the resilience of our food and drinks sector in the north of Ireland and its important contribution to our economy. Family farms are the backbone of our agri-food industry and, as we have such a small population, almost 70 per cent of the food we produce is sold outside the north of Ireland. Therefore, our international reputation for food safety and sustainability is very important to our economy and to the livelihoods of our rural dwellers. I see tremendous potential for continued significant and sustainable growth for our large and small businesses.”

In closing, Minister O’Neill welcomed the opportunity to address this prestigious conference to build on the important relationships made between the north of Ireland and China over recent years and stressed her commitment to continuing this work for the gain of the north’s agri-food industry.