Since becoming MEP over a year ago I have taken the opportunity to attend Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) AGM. I found it to be very informative and afterwards availed of a briefing on our fishing industry, and subsequently visited two of AFBI sites – Hillsborough and Loughgall.
These encounters were extremely useful, especially now that I have taken on the role of Shadow Rapporteur for a legislative proposal set to harmonise rules intended to prevent, eliminate, or reduce the level of health risk in the industry, to humans and animals. It also covers any plans which may affect the Agri-food chain.
For many years the EU had separate regulations for plant health, plant reproductive material and animal by-products, but the proposed legislation intends to establish a unique set of rules applicable to official controls in all of these sectors.
During my visit to Hillsborough being briefed on the process involved in the anaerobic digester with its main fuel being manure provided by the farm animals on the site, I did not realise how valuable that information would be to me in my role of Shadow Rapporteur in the European Parliament Committee.
I envisage that in the months ahead I will find myself working closer with AFBI Scientists tapping into their expertise and ensuring that the work that I do in Committee will be complimentary to what they and others do back home.
When I visited the Loughgall site I learned a lot about how significant horticulture is to our local economy and how crops like Willow are used in environmental processes such as clearing up waste water.
The horticultural industry makes a very significant contribution to our economy through direct employment and sales of its products and services, but also contributes immeasurably to increasingly important areas of public health and social wellbeing.
It is significant to note that this industry contributes to a farm gate output production of approximately £71.7m. The industry as a whole provides employment for over 6500 people in around 1500 businesses plus a further 1000 people working in local authority / public sector organisations. It also contributes up to £80m to the local economy per year through earnings by those in the Landscape and Amenity Services sector. Highly Significant!
The main horticultural crop in the North is mushrooms with a current annual value of approximately £30 million with 43 producers and 2 major producers’ organisations producing annually an estimated 22,000 tonnes of mushrooms.
AFBI provide a great service with its Central Laboratories Services Unit offering a rapid specialist analytical and diagnostic service to the horticultural industry which is most important given that the speed of response is critical to highly perishable crops such as mushrooms.
Given that AFBI has already established partners across Europe in places like Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Finland and Spain the organisation has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of EU Competitiveness Programmes which should assist them to tap into Horizon 2020 funding.
Research work at AFBI has resulted in securing funding from the R&D FP7 programme for solutions to the emerging disease threats from Trichoderma and Virus X in the mushroom industry and for Agroforestry systems. These are complex systems but provide high economic returns to producers while also providing important ecosystem services – attractive landscapes for recreational activity, water and soil and biodiversity conservation.
In addition AFBI also works with partners in Donegal, Monaghan and Sligo institute as well as NI Water on an Answer project – looking at environmentally sustainable solutions for dealing with organic waste and has thus secured INTERREG Funding.
The above is only a fraction of the valuable work AFBI do as its research is applied research and they have a number of world firsts – for instance in diagnosing the flu Pandemic in Pigs and the vaccine produced is the best seller in the world of animal vaccines.
I undertook to profile AFBI in Europe and to give the Representatives the necessary insight into the information needed for forthcoming funding programmes. That is ongoing and Commissioner Maire Geoghan Quinn was not only impressed by the scale of the work that the institute does but also acknowledged that it has as much to give Europe as it has to gain from the opportunities that AFBI can maximise in the EU