Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said that the north’s dairy sector will be severely impacted by the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol Bill, if proposals within it are implemented. 

McAleer was speaking after a recent meeting with Dr. Mike Johnston, chief executive of the Dairy Council for NI.

“The total value to the economy of the dairy sector is £1.5 billion per annum. This represents a £600 million trade flow with the EU, a £400 million trade flow with Britain and £200 million in trade with the rest of the world,” McAleer said.

“All milk produced on the island of Ireland is to the same EU standard, enabling free movement. This free movement is essential as a third of all milk produced in the north is transported to the south each year for processing.     

“However, a serious threat to the sector will emerge if the NI Protocol Bill permits products on farms such as grain from Britain, that is not produced to EU standard.”  

According to the Sinn Féin representative, this would remove NI access to the EU, the north’s biggest market with devastating consequences for over 3,000 dairy farm businesses. 

NI Protocol

“The immediate impact is that 800m litres of milk will not be collected, but herds will continue to produce it,” McAleer continued.

“This will rapidly lead to a situation where farmers will be forced to dispose of this milk or find an alternative market as the EU would no longer be open to them. 

“The reality is that the protocol is essential for the survival of the dairy sector. The British government must not wreck it with the NI Protocol Bill.”

The north’s dairy sector has recently published its official response to the impact of the protocol, in its current form.

It headlines a number of key issues, including the fact that the legislation is working for the NI dairy sector, in that it is allowing trade flows to continue as they did before Brexit.

Processers point out, however, that the protocol is not perfect – there are areas where improvements could be made to make it work even better.

For the NI dairy sector, having access to the GB market is worth around £400 million annually in sales. Having unfettered access to the EU, including the ability to move raw milk from NI cross border for processing, is worth around £600 million per year.

The Island of Ireland (IoI) dairy value chain has developed over 25 years. Without this facility, the NI dairy sector would not be able to operate the Sinn Féin MLA stressed.

NI does not have sufficient processing capacity to process all of its own milk produced locally. So anything that damages or limits the dairy value chain would reportedly have serious consequences for the NI dairy sector.