Sheep industry welcomes EU report recommendations

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has praised a report from the European Union for recognising the importance of the “vulnerable” UK sector in uncertain circumstances. 

The EU Sheep Meat Forum was formed by Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, to address the fragile sheep sector across Europe.

Member states were tasked with considering factors that contribute towards falling sheep numbers and declining sheepmeat consumption and how this can damage public goods delivered by sheep farming businesses. This includes eco-system services, development and rural economies, animal welfare, rural tourism and preservation of heritage.

Priority recommendations
The two priority recommendations of the EU Sheep Meat Forum are:
• Strong CAP Support for Sheep
The forum recommends strong CAP support in the future for sheep producers, including coupled supports and prioritised and enhanced Rural Development measures. A New Environmental payment is also suggested to recognise the key role sheep play in enhancing the environment in extensive grassland systems.
• New Sheep Meat Communication and Promotion Programme
These two new recommended programmes are suggested to have a strong focus on the internal market aimed at positioning EU lamb as the automatic choice among EU consumers. Within EU promotion measures, specific ring-fenced funding should be targeted to sheep.

Four reflection group meetings have taken place over the past 12 months, in which the NSA had an active presence. “The concise report, incorporating submissions from forum representatives including NSA, UK levy bodies and UK forming unions, was pulled together by an Irish team handpicked by Commissioner Hogan,” explained Joanne Briggs, NSA policy officer for England, who attended all four meetings in Brussels. “It makes around 20 sound recommendations and highlights two in particular.

“NSA is very supportive of the recommendation to increase promotion of lamb within the EU to curb decline in consumption. The UK is the biggest producer of lamb in Europe and a global exporter and, as such, would like to see more people enjoy lamb and appreciate how consumption is beneficial for human health and allows sheep farmers to deliver a whole range of additional public goods in rural areas. Generic campaigns such as ‘Lamb: Tasty, Easy, Fun’ have been instrumental in promoting an ‘eat the landscape’ message and we need more of this.”

The second recommendation suggested increased Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments for sheep farmers – specifically coupled support across all EU members. Briggs said that payments coupled to livestock numbers was not something the UK government considered even before the referendum result, while many livestock farmers and the NSA themselves have reservations. However, she highlighted that the UK could find itself at a competitive disadvantage in the future if the government was looking to replace the existing agricultural support with a post-Brexit plan.

“NSA believes the UK government should be aware of the EU report, not least because its very existence is a result of pan-EU concern about the fragility of the sheep sector and sensitivity of lamb as a product,” explained Briggs.

“This is as true in the UK – as it is anywhere else in Europe. NSA will be highlighting the report recommendations that are pertinent to the UK, but we also need to be aware of the recommendations that look likely to be taken up by other EU member states and could therefore affect sheep farmers here.”

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