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Call for protection of 'cornerstone' dairy sector in Northern Ireland

There will be "catastrophic consequences" if the dairy industry in Northern Ireland is not insulated from the coronavirus outbreak, a trade body has said.

The Dairy Council of Northern Ireland (DCNI) said the dairy industry is the "cornerstone of the economy" and supports more than 3,000 farm families plus thousands of additional processing jobs.

The DCNI said the spread of Covid-19 has the potential to decimate the sector.

Dr Mike Johnston, chief executive of DCNI, said the dairy industry must be looked at in the same light as the healthcare and energy sectors in terms of critical importance to the economy.

"The spread of Covid-19 is the single biggest threat to the Northern Ireland dairy industry and the wider society in several generations," he said.

"If milk is not collected then farmers only have one option, dump that milk. Processors are pulling out all the stops and have taken it upon themselves to inform their farmers and hauliers on how best to halt the spread of Covid-19 so milk can be collected and processed each day.

"Milk is a product that is taken from farms today and ends on kitchen tables tomorrow - it is a key component of a natural and healthy diet.

"Our supply chain is robust but yet so delicate that at this time of the year when milk production is approaching, peak resources are stretched to the full.

"Anything that causes a hiccup in our supply chain could lead to less product being available to the consumers of Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has urged farmers to be "extra careful" when interacting with essential farm visitors, including milk lorry and animal feed drivers.

The UFU is asking farmers to let drivers do their job in isolation and avoid unnecessary social contact, ensure that drivers have easy access to bulk tanks and feed bins, and said clear identification and signage on farms will assist new drivers.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: "The agri industry needs to act now.

"We need to take every precaution we can to protect one another and help our healthcare professionals safeguard the people of Northern Ireland.

"By being extra careful as we carry out day-to-day farming tasks, we're ensuring that the food supply chain operates without any glitches.

"Our farmers will play their part in tackling the biggest health challenge of our generation by continuing to produce quality food for the nation."

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