Northern Irish sheep imports ‘deeply concerning’

The Ulster Farmers’ Union’s (UFU) deputy president Ivor Ferguson has said that the number of sheep imports that came through Belfast port during the year of 2015 was deeply concerning.

He particularly highlighted the high volume of imports from New Zealand and Australia.

“Nearly 2,500 tonnes (t) of southern hemisphere lamb was imported,” stressed Ferguson. “We believe this was mostly premium cuts such as loin chops and legs.

“It represents a quarter of the carcase weight of lamb slaughtered in Northern Ireland last year – equivalent to around 120,000 lambs at a carcase weight of 21kg.”

The UFU said that retailers often told the organisation that imports were necessary during periods when the local supply did not meet the consumer demand. Despite this, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said that over 80% of imported lamb entered the country between April and October, which is a prime time for local lamb production.

“This is deeply concerning for local farmers who saw their income drop considerably in 2015,” added Ferguson.

“While we know the euro affects sheep prices, the news that big volumes of cheap lamb are imported will further dent farmers’ confidence in the supply chain.”

He said he believed that the time of year the imports were planned for was purposely done to challenge local prices: “By bringing in the bulk of imports during the peak season here, this was a deliberate effort to increase and so put pressure on local lamb prices.

“This data confirms our view that the EU import quotas that New Zealand and Australia have for lamb need to be revised by the Commission. They must ensure that imports do not undermine production within the EU.”

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