Opinion: ‘We face a fast-paced, unfamiliar and invisible enemy – but we face it together’

By Edwin Poots – Minister for Agriculture for Northern Ireland

As a nation, we are facing the biggest health crisis we’ve seen for generations.

The worry, stress and changes that we’ve all had to endure over recent weeks have been difficult. There should be no doubt that there will be more challenges ahead.

In the midst of these challenges, I want to say a heartfelt thank you and pay tribute to everyone working so hard to keep food on our tables.

‘Now we fully grasp…’

In the past, people may not have realised the work and effort needed to fill our cupboards and stock the shelves, but now all of us fully grasp the complex, high-quality and dedicated supply chain that lies behind our favourite foods.

While some people are unable to go to work for a range of reasons, many of you are working on farms, on production lines, transporting produce, working in our greengrocers, butchers and supermarkets…and you are working harder than ever to feed the nation.

You’ve adjusted the way you work, responded to major changes in demand and transformed your systems to ensure food is produced and to ensure that supplies keep moving.

You are feeding our vital hospital staff and their patients; our elderly relatives in care and residential homes; our children; and some of the most vulnerable people in society who are reliant on food banks and voluntary food deliverers.

While people all rightly recognise the health service heroes, who are looking after us in our time of need, I must also recognise and applaud you. Some might say that you are the unsung heroes, but I can see clearly – and I fully understand – the contribution you are making to the fight against Covid-19.

‘Helpful conversations…’

In my department, all of us continue to listen and will support you as much as we can. We are in regular contact with agri-food industry stakeholders; we’ve had really helpful conversations about pressure points and solutions to emerging issues.

We’ve also undertaken a range of actions to free up the food industry – to be more flexible to keep up with demand.

There’s a need to continually come up with new solutions and answers to questions never considered previously. We face a fast-paced, unfamiliar and invisible enemy – but we face it together.

I am immensely proud of the grit and determination of all those involved in our food supply chain to keep food moving and to keep our country fed. People everywhere owe you an immense debt of gratitude.