Food and drink companies have urged the government to take action to tackle a looming industry crisis in Northern Ireland because of Brexit.

More than 40 trade organisations met with officials from departments including the Department for Exiting the EU, Defra and HMRC this week, to warn of the danger of chaos in the province. According to sources at the meeting, the threat to businesses in Northern Ireland due to new tariffs, the impact of restrictions on workers’ movement and the potential for smuggling operations across the border emerged as some of the biggest issues.

It is understood trade organisations are pressing the government for special customs deals between the two countries as well as assurances about the workforce and how the border will be policed to stop smugglers setting up illegal trading routes for food and drink.

A recent report by Northern Ireland Food and Drink warned that post-Brexit £1.3bn or 28% of all food and drink sales in Northern Ireland would be subject to an uncertain future due to the huge volume of trade to the EU.

One source involved in the talks said: “There’s a huge level of integration in the Irish economies and the question is, how you can practically deal with that? Look at the milk for Baileys or the meat that’s killed in a northern Irish abattoir. They all cross the border multiple times before the product eventually sees the light of day.

“The solution has to be one that allows for maximum possible flexibility. It may be that in effect what you have to say is that Northern Ireland will be treated as if it’s more in the EU than any other part of the UK.”