Forty per cent of the two million-plus turkeys eaten in the Irish Republic over Christmas came from abroad, raising fears about the survival of the sector.

Cheap imports and high production costs - twin problems that are threatening the €150m (£100m) Irish poultry industry as a whole - are blamed for the decline, with many small operators forced out of business.

Turkey production on Irish farms has fallen 13% in the past year, according to the main opposition party, Fine Gael, which urged agriculture minister Mary Coughlan to call industry crisis talks.

Her department said it was already putting together an expert group that would examine the sector's problems and make recommendations. The aim, according to a spokesman, "is to ensure we continue to have a viable indigenous industry in the long term".

He dismissed fears that home-produced turkey could disappear from the Christmas menu. "Irish consumers will always prefer Irish turkeys because of traceability and health concerns, so the demand will always be there. We just have to help producers to meet it."

The cheaper imports come mainly from France, Italy and Poland and have killed off hundreds of the Republic's small turkey producers in recent years. "Only the large Irish poultry units can compete with them," said Michael Reilly, who produces 9,000 birds a year at his farm in Maynooth, Co Kildare, and has seen 20 operators of a similar scale disappear from the area in the past decade.

Meanwhile, a liquidator has begun auctioning off the assets of Castlemahon Food Products, one of the Republic's largest poultry processors, which recently collapsed with debts of €20m. The company, owned by the O'Kane Group in Northern Ireland, supplied Tesco and other multiples and employed 300 workers.