Dairy UK has called on Defra to give the dairy sector preferential access to emergency fuel supplies in the event of a strike by tanker drivers.

The industry fears dairy companies could be left without sufficient fuel to transport the 36 million litres of milk produced by UK farmers every day, if talks between drivers, hauliers, conciliation service ACAS and the Unite union prove unsuccessful.

In a written submission to Defra last week, Dairy UK highlighted the importance of securing fuel for the dairy industry and pushed for the government to prioritise fuel supply for the sector. It also submitted evidence provided by its members via a questionnaire on how fuel shortages would affect them.

“Farmers only have limited capacity to store milk on farm and could be faced with having to dispose of milk if it cannot be collected,” a Dairy UK spokesman said.

He added the industry was also concerned about packaging materials not reaching processors and millions of households experiencing disruptions to their milk supply. “We are preparing for everything we can, but obviously given the nature of our industry there are limitations to what we can do.”

Defra had taken the dairy industry’s case for fuel on board, Dairy UK said. “Defra officials have reassured Dairy UK that ministers are fully mindful of the vulnerabilities of the dairy industry supply chain to fuel disruption,” it said.

Last month, 66% of fuel tanker drivers at the major haulage companies voted in favour of strike action in response to growing job insecurity and working conditions.

Unite has until 16 April to name the date for any industrial action, and must give seven days prior notice. The government is reportedly considering drafting in the army if a strike does happen.