The launch of Queen University Belfast’s new Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) follows the Europe-wide horsemeat scandal, with fall-out continuing early last week when 600g packs of frozen Tesco Simply Roast Meatloaf were removed from shelves in Northern Ireland.
“There also couldn’t be a more timely moment for this Institute to be opening here,” said Clarke, addressing an audience of 250 invited guests in the University’s Riddel Hall. “Never before has the food supply chain been in the spotlight in the way it is today.”
The Institute will spearhead the development of innovative solutions in sustainable food production, addressing issues such as feed and food contamination caused by the complexities of the global food supply chain and climate change, according to Queen’s.
The investment represents the evolution of the UK’s first Institute of Agri-Food and Land Use, introduced by Queen’s in 2006 under the leadership of Professor Chris Elliott, director of the new Institute.
IGFS’ remit is to work with the local and global food sector to improve the integrity of the food chain and deliver best value and quality to consumers, while also boosting the global competitiveness of the local agri-food industry.
“We want to build a ‘food-fortress’, ensuring everything we import is of the highest quality and that what we sell locally and internationally is also 100% safe, nutritious and authentic,” said Professor Elliott.
Clarke took the opportunity to announce Tesco was doubling its spend on fresh beef, pork and chicken from Northern Irish farmers. “Within the next few weeks, we will go from sourcing less than 20% of the meat we sell here locally to around 90%,” he said. “And we’re not going to stop there – we’re going to do everything within our power to get as close as we can to 100%.”
Tesco already spends over £500m a year on the agricultural produce of Northern Ireland, stocking around 1,800 lines from 90 Northern Irish suppliers, and Clarke said a further aim would be to support the export of Northern Irish produce overseas. “With Tesco, that doesn’t just mean the UK and the Republic of Ireland,” he said. “Our expansion beyond the UK presents some real opportunities for Northern Irish suppliers.”
Clarke also met with representatives from leading food companies for a round-table discussion aimed at driving regional growth and competitiveness, and opened a new £2.5m laboratory equipped to test for food contamination and adulteration; part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Invest NI.