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No-deal Brexit threat to cross-border slurry trade

Victor Chestnutt of the UFU
Victor Chestnutt of the UFU

By Michael McHugh

Thousands of tonnes of animal waste destined for the Republic could be halted by a no-deal Brexit, it is claimed.

Massive amounts of chicken and pig manure are sent south to anaerobic digestion (AD) plants each year to create energy. If the border becomes a frontier with the EU in less than 10 weeks, no one knows that will happen to litter from instensive farming, SDLP MLA John Dallat said.

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) said solutions could involve spreading more on the land, incineration and the use of other waste at energy facilities. Historically it would have been burned in Scotland.

Mr Dallat said ammonia levels, a gas from animal waste, are higher here than in the Republic or Britain.

He said: "I believe there is now a real risk to our rivers, watercourses, lakes and indeed the sea as ammonia and other nitrates build up to levels that are well above what is considered safe, and we have no Assembly to address this issue."

The MLA estimated that some 75,000 tonnes of animal waste are sent across the border each year for processing into energy.

The UK is due to exit the EU on March 29, but Westminster has rejected the draft withdrawal agreement, leaving the a no-deal exit the default.

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Mr Dallat added: "This brings directly into focus the wisdom of the promotion of intensive farming methods which demand outlets for huge volumes of sludge."

The material is turned in the digesters into biogas, which is burned to produce electricity.

Victor Chestnutt, deputy president at the UFU, said: "There are going to be potential barriers for litter. It usually goes to arable land as fertiliser.

"Under a no-deal, you would effectively become a third country, moving that to an EU country.

"All the rules of third countries would apply to that and the EU already has its rules for third country waste but it is one of the secondary issues."

He said the export of animal product was a priority.

"Effectively litter is something which is easier to move, historically it would have been to Scotland to be burned in an incinerator, then it became more attractive to go south to be used as fertiliser. There are alternative technical solutions to export, for example local land spreading, incineration and use in AD (anaerobic digestion) plants.

"Equally, it disrupts trade, it is whether there are more efficient ways that we look to utilise it."

An AD project outside Ballybofey in Co Donegal was to be built by Co Antrim-based Williams Industrial Services, but it has gone into administration.

The project received a £9.3m loan from Invest NI.

Belfast Telegraph