Northern Ireland news

UFU disputes cattle cull claim but warns of no deal Brexit devastation

Agrifood industry insiders warned that thousands of dairy cattle will be culled in the event of a no deal Brexit. Picture by Irish Farmers Association

NORTHERN Ireland's biggest farming lobby group last night dismissed reports of a potential cattle cull if the UK crashes out of Europe but nevertheless at the same time warned that a no deal Brexit would be "catastrophic" for the sector.

Agrifood industry insiders have warned that up to 45,000 dairy cows could be slaughtered due to a milk glut in the north caused by a no deal Brexit.

The north has around 310,000 dairy cattle, with 700-800 million litres of milk sent south for processing each year.

But if the UK crashes out of the EU on October 31, dairy exports to the Republic could be halted overnight.

According to Wednesday's BBC Newsnight report, officials at Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have been warned about the potential for “a major cull of dairy cattle, but they are not listening”.

Defra denied that a cull was on the cards, saying: “A widespread cull of livestock is absolutely not something that the government anticipates nor is planning for in the event of no-deal.”

The Irish News contacted the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera), the corresponding department in Northern Ireland, for comment. However, by yesterday teatime it had failed to respond.

Ian Knox cartoon 9/8/19: Industry insiders warn Defra that some 45,000 dairy cows could be culled in the north in the event of a no-deal Brexit if new higher tariffs are applied to British milk 

Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) president Ivor Ferguson said the organisation was not anticipating a cattle cull.

“At this point in time, we are not even talking about a large cull of animals and we don’t anticipate that we will get to this point," he said.

"In the event of a no-deal, the dairy industry will find ways to cope if there is a surplus of milk, although it’s not likely to be straightforward and we would expect disruption – possibly there is capacity in our local processing sector to absorb any extra milk or we may be able to send it to GB."

However, while the UFU figurehead played down the prospect of a cull, he did warn that a no deal Brexit would be "catastrophic" for the regional farming sector.

"Steep export tariffs, a zero per cent tariff on agriculture goods coming from the Republic of Ireland, increased checks and regulations will all cause huge disruption and a logistical nightmare for family-run farm businesses," he said.

Mr Ferguson said the UFU was lobbying politicians and the British government "so they understand the seriousness of a no-deal situation and the importance of avoiding it".

Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman Declan McAleer noted how Mr Ferguson had dismissed the Newsnight report he had nonetheless highlighted the severe implications of a no deal Brexit.

"These latest dire warnings follow recent independent reports by the Irish Institute of European Affairs (IIEA) and the Department of Economy confirm that a hard Brexit will be a doomsday scenario for Irish farming and all-Ireland trade," he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the BBC had "plumbed new depths in anti-Brexit propaganda".

“When even the Brexit-hostile leadership of the UFU repudiates BBC’s latest Brexit scare story you know how preposterous it is," he said.

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