NORTHERN IRELAND: New food safety centre launched

A ground-breaking food safety centre will open at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this month.

The £2 million (US$3.2 million) Centre for Assured, Safe, and Traceable Food (ASSET), funded in part by Northern Ireland's Department for Employment and Learning, will research new technologies to detect contaminants in food, which agri-food industries will implement in their facilities to ensure high standards of food safety.

Northern Ireland's food industry, which includes primary agriculture such as meat and milk as well as processed foods from cereals, poultry and honey, generates £2.4 billion in sales and employs 12% of the country's private sector workers.

ASSET's new leader, Professor Chris Elliot, said in a communiqué that the centre will create cutting edge technology to ensure Northern Ireland's food exports are world-class quality.

A key issue was monitoring ingredients that are imported and then processed in Northern Ireland, he said: "As the contents of processed food come from multiple countries which may not have as stringent safety standards as we do, there is a risk of them being contaminated and causing a risk to both the consumer and the local food industry."

He cited China's melamine milk scandal and the European pork industry's dioxin crisis to show how food safety reaches beyond borders and can ruin industries economically. He said ASSET would combat those problems and help Northern Ireland's food industries compete globally.

"Food is now a true global commodity and we are in competition with the rest of the world. We know other places can produce food cheaper, but our opportunities lie in producing the safest, highest quality and most traceable food in the world," he said.

Communications officer Andrea Clements said that if the centre creates ground-breaking contamination technologies, it might commercialise the products in the future.

ASSET will open on 29 September with a conference for local industry members.