No Deal Brexit risks cull of '45,000 cows' in Northern Ireland

David Harding
There could be a mass cull, experts have warned (REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon)

No-Deal Brexit could mean the culling of some 45,000 dairy cows in Northern Ireland, senior industry figures have warned.

Officials at the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), have been warned about the potential cull, BBC Newsnight has discovered.

Northern Ireland’s milk industry is thought to be particularly susceptible if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal because around a third of its dairy output is processed in the Republic.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Britain will definitely leave the European Union whatever happens, even without a deal, on the deadline day of October 31.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland (Photo by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye - Pool /Getty Images)

The prospect of a No Deal has grown in recent weeks as the government says it will commit to leaving, “no ifs or buts”, in October.

However Defra says the cull is not something the government is planning for, in a statement to the BBC.

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“A widespread cull of livestock is absolutely not something that the government anticipates nor is planning for in the event of no-deal.

"We will always back Britain and Northern Ireland's great farmers and make sure that Brexit works for them.

"The government is boosting its preparations to ensure we are fully prepared to leave the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances."

There are some 310,000 dairy cattle in Northern Ireland, and the industry exports between 700 and 800 million litres of milk to the Republic of Ireland each year.

There have also been warnings that food prices could increase in the event of a No Deal.

The fear among Northern Ireland milk producers is that, if no agreement is reached the North will be left with a glut of milk that it is unable to sell.

“If there is no market, and farmers cannot sell their milk, they could only keep going for a very short period,” one industry insider told the BBC.

"We're talking about hundreds of thousands of litres of milk going to waste, and then the farmers would have no choice but to reduce their herds."

A cow leaving a milking parlour (REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

Michael Bell, executive director of Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association said: "The impact of a no-deal Brexit on food and drink - Northern Ireland's largest industrial sector - will potentially be very severe.

Earlier this week it was reported that the prime minister's chief of staff, Dominic Cummings said all government departments should be “interrogated” on their Brexit planning.

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