Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

ICOS calls for all milk on island to be called 'Irish'

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

ICOS has called for all milk on the island of Ireland to be deemed 'Irish' - in light of Brexit and amid the possibility that milk from Northern Ireland would be labelled as 'non-EU'.

The call flies in the face of the National Dairy Council's policy of only allowing milk that is farmed and processed in the Republic of Ireland to carry its logo.

The National Dairy Council has resisted calls from some processors in recent years to allow milk that is farmed in the Republic and processed in Northern Ireland to carry the NDC logo.

However, now ICOS CEO TJ Flanagan has said that Ireland must include Northern Irish milk, or milk farmed in the Republic of Ireland and processed in Northern Ireland as 'Irish' milk.

Around 800m litres of Northern Irish milk travels into the Republic for processing on an annual basis and makes up 15pc of the Irish processing pool.

TJ Flanagan said there must be a technical solution where such milk is not kept out of the pool. "We have to have a very open discussion about it."

“One of the solutions ICOS proposed (to the European Commission) was for the recognition of “Irish milk” as coming from the island of Ireland. Ideally this will allow for the continued trade of milk across the border, without being hindered by burdensome customs, SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures) and labelling regulations."

He said the proposal was considered by the Commission with interest, although any agreement made on customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic must be agreeable to the other 26 EU Member States.

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He also said that Ireland must differentiate its production processes, for example away from cheddar cheese, should UK market access be more restrictive and this would take many years and a lot of investment to achieve. At the moment 90,000t of Irish cheddar ends up in the UK every year and this could be subject to a tariff of €150m if the EU and UK revert to WTO arrangements. 

“ICOS shared with the Commission the view that practical solutions are needed to avoid the introduction of a physical border between the north and south of Ireland."

He was speaking after ICOS attended meeting with members of the EU Commission’s Brexit negotiating team, including those responsible for agricultural and Irish affairs within the upcoming talks, where ICOS made a submissions relating to Irish co-operatives. 

In its most recent accounts the National Dairy Council received funding of €2.9m to promote the consumption of dairy. However, the NDC 'farmed in the Republic of Ireland' logo means that some processors who do not differentiate their milk pools cannot use the label.

Strathroy joint owner Ruairi Cunningham told that from a dairy farmers' and processors point of view they would support the stance of ICOS and welcomed the move by ICOS.

"The risk in Brexit ultimately it is the farmer who is going to get hurt. They have to be protected.

“Strathroy welcomes the fact that ICOS recognise the need for an all-island approach to milk produced here, especially in light of the threat of Brexit. The agricultural industry has always operated on an all-island basis over the years, in all its sectors.

"Agricultural products, including milk, have been traded throughout the island, to the benefit of the primary producer and processor alike. Producers have kept this trade alive as they appreciate the value and benefits of competition.”

He also said that all agricultural products should be included in an all-island policy to protect primary producers as much as possible.

However, the NDC in a statement said that only milk which is both farmed and processed in the Republic of Ireland can carry the NDC Trademark.

It went on to say that Strathroy is not a member of the National Dairy Council and when asked about Strathroy's application for membership, the NDC said that "Any queries concerning membership remain a matter for consideration of the Board”.

Meanwhile, Strathroy is currently advertising in the Republic for more dairy farmers to supply it with milk and has not ruled out building a processing site in the Republic if a hard Brexit occurs.

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