Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) and the Dairy Council of Northern Ireland have called for new rules of origin for milk from the island of Ireland.

They told the Seanad special select committee on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU this week that on 1 January 2021 a range of goods which are deemed to be produced in this state lost their EU origin status and, a result, their access to lower or zero preferential tariffs under certain EU trade agreements with markets around the world.

Conor Mulvihill, director of DII, said that from an Irish Government perspective, there needs to be clarity on the island of Ireland labelling.

At the moment, thank God, things are very good for processors and farmers

“So something is Irish or product of Ireland, that has to be very clear, that a product from the island can be called that on front of pack. From the EU side, intervention and private storage aid are market tools that are used by the EU when dairy markets go a bit south.

“At the moment, thank God, things are very good for processors and farmers, but that won’t be forever as we all know here.

“At present, the EU is saying that mixed island of Ireland dairy product cannot access intervention and private storage aid, which is a crazy situation and is in the gift of the EU to solve,” he said.

Schrodinger’s milk

In an homage to Leaving Cert students who might be doing physics exams this week, Mulvihill highlighted a physics experiment called Schrodinger’s cat.

“The cat is inside in a box and you don’t know whether the cat is dead or alive.

This needs to be sorted

“My analogy here is that if this origin piece isn’t sorted out, we don’t know if the milk product is Irish or British or nothing at all, so we have Schrodinger’s milk appearing in Ireland.

“You can get away with that to a degree in terms of litres of milk, but when you’re in infant formula, the origin is absolutely fundamental to what you’re selling. This needs to be sorted.”

Northern Ireland

Dr Mike Johnston of the Dairy Council of Northern Ireland said the council is very supportive of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“Is it perfect? No. There’s elements of it that need fixed, but please do not kill the protocol, because it has allowed us to continue with the trade flows uninterrupted by and large,” he said. He added that the Irish Sea dimension of the protocol has dominated the thinking.

“There hasn’t been the political energy put into dealing with this island of Ireland issue, which from a dairy industry point of view is every bit as important as the Irish Sea dimension, maybe even more important,” he said.

“Certainly, if we didn’t have the protocol dairy farmers and their local communities throughout the island of Ireland would be a lot worse off than they are at the moment,” he said.