The issue of a mixed milk pool involving suppliers from both sides of the Northern Irish border is “a real problem” – but efforts are underway to overcome this, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

The minister was responding to comments on the matter made by Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill in the Dáil earlier this week.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday (Thursday, January 21), Minister Coveney said: “It is a real problem. I do not want to pretend it will be solved easily.

“About 900 million litres of milk comes south from Northern Ireland farms to be processed. Lakeland Dairies is probably the best example of a processor which has a very significant percentage of its milk pool coming from the North, but Glanbia and others do too.”

The minister noted that one can sell milk that has been sourced on a Northern Ireland farm across the EU as if it is produced in the EU.

However, the challenge arises where, “if one is selling a product that has been processed with that milk pool from Northern Ireland to a third country that is subject to a trade agreement that the EU has put in place, that milk is sourced outside the EU – even though it is at equivalent to EU standard – under country of origin rules”.

Continuing, Minister Coveney explained: “It is seen as UK milk rather than Irish or EU milk. As a result, there is a problem with EU trade agreements in different parts of the world and selling Northern Ireland milk as EU milk.

“The only way to change that is by changing the trade agreements to insert an asterisk to say ‘EU and Northern Ireland products’ which is something we would like to do.”

The minister said that he has sought that from the European Commission, adding:

We will continue to do that but it will take time and a lot of goodwill on the EU side to be willing to do that.

“It does pose difficulties in the meantime, but there is a huge market across the EU, where milk from Northern Ireland will be treated the exact same as EU milk.

“It is only because of the technical legalities of trade agreements, and the country of origin element to those agreements around accurate labelling, that the protocol on Northern Ireland does not cater for products like that. Milk is the best example,” he said.