Pork companies approved for China exports

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture Correspondent

image captionIt is hoped the trade with China will be worth £10m a year for Northern Irish firms

Northern Ireland's two biggest pork processing companies have been approved for exports to China.

Two large cold-store facilities here have also been approved for trade which it is hoped will be worth £10m a year.

It follows a long accreditation process which saw Chinese inspections of plants here and several NI agriculture ministers visit China.

Both Karro based in Cookstown and the Cranswick processing plant in Ballymena have been approved.

The new agreements include approval to export from three sites in Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, as well as the Northern Irish plants.

Food Minister George Eustice said the deal would bring a £200m boost to the UK food industry and support 1,500 jobs.

It will mean a mass market for so-called fifth-quarter cuts like trotters, heads and hearts.

Significantly, the two local companies are now among only three UK companies licensed to export trotters - for which there is a ready market in China.

It should mean good news for pig farmers too.

If processors can get more for each animal slaughtered, the expectation is that the increased profit would be shared with the primary producers.

'Rigorous standards'

The announcement was welcomed in Northern Ireland, where the devolved administration has been working alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as well as the local pork industry to gain access to China.

image captionChinese officials visited abattoirs in Northern Ireland as part of the inspection process

Northern Ireland's Chief Veterinary Officer, Robert Huey, said the deal represented a major boost for the Northern Ireland's pig sector as well as the wider agri-food industry.

"By recommending approval, the Chinese authorities have recognised the rigorous standards Northern Ireland has in place to produce our high-quality, safe and wholesome pork," he said.

"We place a clear emphasis on traceability at the heart of our production and processing and recognise that a joined-up, safe and efficient food supply is essential."

Northern Ireland Office Minister Chloe Smith MP said the approval was "an exciting example of what the Northern Ireland agri-food sector and, indeed, export market can be, and of what we can achieve in terms of trade, jobs and new opportunities as we build an economy that works for everyone".

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