Thousands more jobs will be lost in Ireland's food and drink sector unless the Government acts swiftly to give more aid to businesses, trade body Food and Drink Industry Ireland has warned.

Paul Kelly, director of the body, said today (23 June): "Over 2,000 jobs have been lost already this year and many thousands more are at risk."

Speaking at the launch of a report on Ireland's food and drink sector, Kelly said that industry growth has been "severely damaged" by rising business costs and the depreciation of sterling against the euro.

"Put simply, the cost base for the sector is way out of line with competitor economies," he said. "This is having a huge impact on our export potential and, ultimately, on the investment decisions of Irish food and drink companies."

Ireland became the first EU member state to enter a technical recession last year.

Recent months have seen companies such as Britvic, Diageo, C&C Group and Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co announce job cuts. Diageo said last week that it would cut 107 jobs, mainly at its St James's Gate Guinness brewery in Dublin.

Ireland imports EUR5bn (US$7bn) of food and drink products but exports around EUR8bn, according to Food and Drink Industry Ireland.

It called on the Government to reduce business costs to in-line with the EU average and seek EU clearance to offer grants to the worst hit companies. It also called for an export credit scheme, guaranteed by the state.

Food and Drink Industry Ireland is part of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC).