Does Northern Ireland produce enough to feed 10 million people?

CLAIM: Northern Ireland produces enough to feed 10 million people (annually).

CONCLUSION: ACCURATE WITH CONSIDERATION. The Northern Ireland agricultural sector produces enough protein to meet the needs of 10m adults. However, production is only sufficient to meet the energy requirements of 4.7m adults.

On 15 January 2021, in response to Minister’s Poots claim that the food supply chain to schools and hospitals could soon be in jeopardy, Mr Bell stated: “Food and drink is Northern Ireland’s largest industry and we supply food for 10m people, 8m of which are mostly in [Great Britain].”

Michael Bell from the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) made a similar remark, in his testimony to the EU Environment Subcommittee at the House of Commons on 24 June 2020: “… Northern Ireland feeds a fair amount of Great Britain (output is the equivalent of 10 million meals)” and “… Northern Ireland feeds the equivalent of 10m people.”

In a statement on the security of pandemic food supply lines back on 6 May 2020, Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Edwin Poots MLA, said: “There is more than enough food for us all, given that Northern Ireland produces enough to feed 10 million people across the globe.”

Are 10m fed by Northern Ireland?

A representative from NIFDA responded to our query of how the figure of 10 million people fed by Northern Ireland food and agricultural output was calculated. The association explained how it used figures from the DAERA publication, Northern Ireland Food and Drinks Processing Report 2019.

According to the NIFDA calculation:

    • the total value of annual Northern Ireland food production is £5.3bn
    • Northern Ireland’s domestic consumption is approximately £1bn of this
    • the approximate population of 2m people in Northern Ireland consume £1bn of food production
    • thus £5.3bn is estimated to feed 10m people (i.e. 5 x 2m)

This calculation uses figures for consumption to estimate food production.

How much does the Northern Ireland agricultural sector produce?

DAERA officials estimated that in 2019, the Northern Ireland agricultural sector produced an estimated 182,000 tons of edible protein that would meet the needs of the equivalent of 10m people. They used NISRA’s Statistical Review of Northern Ireland Agriculture 2019, which reports on physical output rather than the finances of consumption.

176,000 tons were produced by the livestock sector, and 6,400 tons from vegetable, fruit, grain, and potato sectors. (Fish was not included, as DAERA does not consider it an agricultural output.) A figure of 50 grams of protein per day for adults was used by DAERA, based on UK Dietary Reference Values.

However, protein alone is not a balanced diet. Using an alternative dietary energy approach, DAERA estimated that the output from the Northern Ireland agricultural sector could meet the energy requirements of 4.7m “adult equivalents”.

As provided by DAERA, the tables of figures used for the calculations of estimated production from the agricultural sector of protein as well as energy equivalents are below. We have annotated figures with appropriate links to published information.

What about the Northern Ireland food processing sector?

DAERA advised FactCheckNI that in contrast to the agricultural sector, output from the Northern Ireland food processing sector is not considered in their calculations, because “this sector imports very significant additional quantities of beef (chiefly carcasses) and pigs (live animals for slaughter) from outside Northern Ireland”.

That means that the protein equivalent output from Northern Ireland food processors includes raw materials sourced from farms outside Northern Ireland, and excludes protein from local farms that is processed outside Northern Ireland. DAERA gives the example of “a third of milk produced on Northern Ireland farms is processed in the Republic of Ireland”.

While the monetary value and destination of food processing sales can be found in the Northern Ireland Food and Drinks Processing Report, the cross-border sourcing and processing of raw materials makes it nearly impossible to calculate what percentage of the nutritional value of Northern Ireland food production sent to Great Britain or elsewhere in the world.

Summary

The statements made about Northern Ireland food production in 2020 and 2021 were made in response to public concern about local food supply chains during the pandemic. While DAERA officials calculated that the Northern Ireland agricultural sector produced enough protein to meet the needs of 10m adults, this is not the whole nutritional story. An alternative dietary energy approach suggests that Northern Ireland agriculture produces the estimated energy needs of 4.7m adults, which is still greater than the estimated population of 1.9m people in Northern Ireland (mid-2019).

ENDS

NOTES

Table 1. Estimated protein requirements met (adult equivalents) from Northern Ireland agricultural production (2019)

LIVESTOCK SECTOR Milk Beef Sheep Pigs Poultry Eggs Total
Output (milk = litres) (eggs=kg) 2,391,000,000 132,264,000 [1]
Prime meat output (kg clean carcass weight) 114,700,000 16,000,000 126,900,000 226,275,000 [2]
Manufacturing meat output (kg carcass weight cull animals etc) 32,300,000 3,600,000 2,100,000
Total livestock product output (milk = litres otherwise kg) 2,391,000,000 147,000,000 19,600,000 129,000,000 226,275,000 132,264,000
Proportion of livestock product inedible/waste 0.01 0.245 0.257 0.106 0.133 0.01
Total edible livestock product output (kg) 2,367,090,000 110,985,000 14,562,800 115,326,000 200,638,043 130,941,360
Protein content of livestock product (proportion) [3] 0.0329 0.187 0.159 0.176 0.19 0.12625
Total protein output (kg) 77,877,261 20,754,195 2,315,485 20,297,376 38,121,228 16,531,347 175,896,892
Dietary protein requirements met (adult equivalents) 4,278,970 1,140,340 127,224 1,115,240 2,094,573 908,316 9,664,664
VEGETABLE/FRUIT/ARABLE SECTOR Mushrooms Vegetables Fruit Oats Potatoes Total
Output (kg fresh weight) 34,000,000 55,000,000 54,000,000 10,000,000 143,000,000
Proportion of product inedible/waste (post harvest) 0.050 0.100 0.100 0.375 0.100
Total edible output (kg) 32,300,000 49,500,000 48,600,000 6,250,000 128,700,000
Protein content (proportion/kg fresh weight) [3] 0.031 0.029 0.010 0.110 0.022
Total protein output 1,001,300 1,435,500 486,000 687,500 2,831,400 6,441,700
Dietary protein requirements met (adult equivalents) 55,016 78,874 26,703 37,775 155,571   353,940
10,018,604

Table 2. Estimated dietary energy requirements met (adult equivalents) from Northern Ireland agricultural production (2019)

LIVESTOCK SECTOR Milk Beef Sheep Pigs Poultry Eggs Total
Output (milk = litres) (eggs=kg) 2,391,000,000 132,264,000 [1]
Prime meat output (kg clean carcass weight) 114,700,000 16,000,000 126,900,000 226,275,000 [2]
Manufacturing meat output (kg carcass weight cull animals etc) 32,300,000 3,600,000 2,100,000
Total livestock product output (milk =litres otherwise kg) 2,391,000,000 147,000,000 19,600,000 129,000,000 301,700,000 132,264,000
Proportion of livestock product inedible/waste 0.010 0.245 0.257 0.106 0.133 0.010
Total edible livestock product output (kg) 2,367,090,000 110,985,000 14,562,800 115,326,000 267,517,390 130,941,360
Energy content (MJ/l or MJ/kg) [3] 3.10 12.20 12.80 12.20 9.15 5.47
Total energy output (MJ) 7,337,979,000 1,354,017,000 186,403,840 1,406,977,200 2,447,784,119 716,249,239 13,449,410,398
Total energy output (kCal) 1,753,776,981,000 323,610,063,000 44,550,517,760 336,267,550,800 585,020,404,322 171,183,568,169 3,214,409,085,050
Dietary energy requirements met (adult equivalents) 2,402,434 443,301 61,028 460,640 801,398 234,498 4,403,300
VEGETABLE/FRUIT/ARABLE SECTOR Mushrooms Vegetables Fruit Oats Potatoes Total
Output (kg live weight) 34,000,000 55,000,000 54,000,000 10,000,000 143,000,000
Proportion of product inedible/waste (post harvest) 0.05 0.10 0.10 0.38 0.10
Total edible output (kg) 32,300,000 49,500,000 48,600,000 6,200,000 128,700,000
Energy content (MJ/kg fresh weight) [3] 2.90 1.85 2.22 16.80 3.51
Total energy output (MJ) 93,670,000 91,575,000 107,892,000 104,160,000 451,737,000 849,034,000
Total energy output (kCal) 22,387,130,000 21,886,425,000 25,786,188,000 24,894,240,000 107,965,143,000 202,919,126,000
Dietary energy requirements met (adult equivalents) 30,667 29,981 35,324 34,102 147,897   277,971
4,681,272

Notes to Tables 1 and 2: [1] An average egg weight of 67g is deduced. [2] A percentage of edible components of chicken was applied. [3] Protein and energy content conversion figures based on data from the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (with details provided to FactCheckNI).