Pig market managers in Brussels have approved a new private storage aid scheme for Northern Ireland to help support the local pig industry, still suffering from the impact of the recent dioxin scare.

The problems arose when contaminated Irish pigmeat was found in Continental supermarkets, leading to product withdrawals within the EU and trade bans outside the EU.

Northern Irish pigmeat was also taken off supermarket shelves, even though it was later established that no contaminated feed had been fed to pigs in the province.

Faced with this market disruption, the EU Commission introduced a €15m private storage aid scheme for the Republic of Ireland last week.

This week it has offered a similar €6m scheme to Northern Ireland, helping pig processors with the cost of keeping surplus product off the market.

Agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew welcomed the development, which she hoped would stabilise markets.

“Immediately upon hearing that the EU had approved the PSA scheme for the South, I wrote to Hilary Benn, seeking his support to convey to the EU Commission the impact of the incident on our pig industry.

“I made a strong case that our pig industry should not be placed at a competitive disadvantage. After all, the incident impacted on the whole island of Ireland, due to the significant movements of pigs across the border.”

Ulster Farmers Union president Graham Furey hoped that, in addition to PSA, traditional Christmas demand for high quality local pork and bacon products would help producers and processors recover quickly.