Calls to revitalise EU sheep sector or risk facing a ‘rural exodus’

Copa and Cogeca, the combined umbrella grouping that represents the views of farmers within the European Union (EU), has drawn attention to the fragile situation within Europe’s sheep market.

In the wake of continuing low prices and falling sales, the body has highlighted the need for innovation and promotion measures to boost consumption, especially amongst the young.

Outlining the market situation, Copa and Cogeca’s Sheepmeat Working Party Chairwoman Michele Boudoin said consumption levels range from 2-2.5kg/head/year in many EU member states, apart from Greece where it reaches 4.5kg/head annually.

These figures compare badly to the 18kg/head per year consumption levels, which were the norm two decades ago

While EU sheep production is up 6.8% on last year’s levels and by 10.9% for goats, prices for heavy lambs are declining but still slightly above the low levels seen last year. Light lamb prices are below 2017 levels.

The next generation

Copa and Cogeca’s Sheepmeat Working Party Chairwoman Michele Boudoin has highlighted the need to make the sector more dynamic and more attractive to young people.

As President of the French Sheep Producers Organisation, she has announced plans to have a National Lamb Day in schools in France to re-educate young consumers about the many nutritional benefits of eating lamb and also to promote new, modern and easy-to-cook recipes.

Lamb is a very important source of minerals and vitamins like B6 and B12 in consumers’ diet and they need to be aware of this. She also wants to find measures how to revalue wool, as it is treated currently as waste in some member states due to the low price.

‘Risk facing a further exodus’

This was supported by Spanish MEP Esther Herranz Garcia, author of a report on the future of the sector for European Parliament.

She warned of a rural “exodus” on the back of the crisis now facing the sheep industry right across Europe.

Her report includes recommendations to have strong support in the sheep sector via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with an emphasis on rewarding sheep farming in areas with natural constraints to boost employment in rural areas and to better support farmers who do more in terms of animal welfare.

She also underlined the need for innovation to add value to certain cuts.

“The EU must ensure that CAP spending in the future EU budget is at least maintained, otherwise we risk facing a further exodus from the rural areas especially of young people,” added Boudoin.