The food and drink industry is currently going through a once in a generation challenge. It had to adapt rapidly to the Covid-19 pandemic to keep our workers safe as they continued their vital work of feeding the nation. Factories transformed as new safety measures were introduced – social distancing, temperature screening, etc – often at considerable expense.
At the same time, Brexit is once again proving a challenge for firms. With the Government’s decision not to extend the deadline for transition, we have only six more months of status quo, and still no clarity on what comes next.
On both Covid-19 and Brexit, NIFDA is working harder than ever to engage with all levels of Government to make the case for our industry and lobby for support. We are also closely engaging with lawmakers on legislation that will have a real impact on our food industry locally and the wider “eating ecosystem” we operate within.
The UK Government’s Environment Bill is an ambitious piece of legislation that aims to make the UK more environmentally sustainable.
One area of focus within the Bill is addressing the issue of plastic waste.
Plastic waste is an issue the industry is taking seriously. Clearly, as a society we need to rethink our use of plastics, and at a Government level there needs to be investment in better recycling infrastructure, and a reform of the system to drive up recycling rates. NIFDA has established a packaging forum to focus on these issues and assess what business can do to be part of the solution.
The ideal outcome is an integrated and transparent system that minimises the negative impacts on business, local authorities and consumers. We need to maintain a ‘shared responsibility’ approach right across the packaging chain in order to foster collaboration and encourage all business to do the right thing.
Educating the consumer about waste and recycling will be an equally important part of facing this challenge.
Even the best systems will be ineffective if the public does not play its part in fully participating in them.
Our over-arching concern with the Government’s Bill is not with its aims. We support the ambition of delivering a greener UK, but a ‘one size fits all’ approach for the whole UK will not work, and the geography of Northern Ireland poses some practical challenges. The Northern Ireland Assembly has had to operate to a very narrow timeframe to scrutinise the devolved matters within the Bill, and there is a very real concern that unworkable legislation will be rushed through without due consideration being afforded to
the Northern Ireland specific impacts.
For our part at NIFDA, we will continue to work with the agriculture and environment committee at Stormont, and with government at all levels to help deliver practical, workable solutions that are economically viable and environmentally sustainable.