Truss issues Brexit warning to sheep industry

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has warned that the sheep industry will suffer should Great Britain leave the European Union. 

Ahead of the EU referendum, which takes place on 23 June, while visiting sheep farmers in Cumbria, Truss warned that the sector could be facing a “huge leap into the dark” if Britain votes to leave.

She said: “Sheep farmers in Cumbria and across the uplands are a vital part of the British countryside, but without the benefits the industry enjoys from our membership of the EU, the very future of this iconic industry could be under threat.”

Truss added that the EU was an important export destination, accounting for 97% of all lamb and mutton exports.

“The single market is essential for British lamb – 40% of all the lamb reared in the UK goes to Europe. Outside the European Union, farmers could face quotas and tariffs, as well as a red tape double whammy of having to follow both UK and EU rules.

“Less trade could result in significant price falls, damaging the incomes of the 10,000 sheep farmers who depend on it.

“This makes a vote to leave the EU a huge leap into the dark for our food and farming industry and threatens the livelihoods of thousands of British farmers.”

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive, said: “Many of our members share the very real fears outlined by the Secretary of State on her visit to Cumbria today. Sheep farmers are more reliant on exports that any other agricultural sector, so leaving the EU common market would have very serious consequences. Defra does not have a good track record of negotiating export certificates so there would be a mountain to climb in the event of a yes vote, to create partnerships with EU countries we already deal with, particularly France. A lot of the EU referendum debate has been around exports, but NSA does not feel agriculture has been given enough profile within this, and particularly the unique situation of the sheep sector.”

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