Northern Ireland

Cross-border milk fraud investigated at Belleek, south Armagh

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is investigating a case of suspected milk fraud in south Armagh.

The driver of a milk tanker co-operated with officials and was allowed to leave with the vehicle.

Officials have also examined a lorry filled with plastic tanks.

The fraud involves Republic of Ireland farmers, who have exceeded their EU quota of milk production, selling their excess to farmers in Northern Ireland who are under their quota.

They in turn pass it off as their own produce paying about 11 pence a litre, and selling it on for about 30 pence a litre.

Usually if a farmer south of the border produces more milk than he is allowed in his quota he has to pay a levy.

Health risk

Farmers are not allowed to move milk across international borders without a special permit.

A licence is also needed to move milk anywhere from a farm.

This fraud means there is no traceability and there is a potential public health risk.

There are tax implications as well, and officers from HM Revenue and Customs are also thought to be involved in the investigation, along with the police and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Maria Jennings, director of the FSA in Northern Ireland, said: "Through this multi-agency investigation, we are working together to protect the integrity of the food chain.

"Consumers should not be concerned as all milk undergoes routine tests in NI processing establishments. It is then pasteurised, significantly reducing any risk to human health.

"We are unable to comment further at this time as this is a live investigation."