The first UK sheep embryos have been shipped to the US, the Agriculture Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has said.

The shipment, valued at approximately £400,000, is the first of what is hoped to be a regular trade in ovine genetics, meeting strong demand from US customers to source directly from the UK.

It follows the enacting of US legislation in 2021 that lifted a 33-year US embargo on lamb and sheep embryos from countries previously affected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

It was the culmination of a collaborative effort between the UK sheepmeat industry, the UK Export Certificate Partnership (UKECP), UK government, and the AHDB.

Using imported UK embryos will allow US producers to gain full pedigree status for a breed within one generation. It may take 10 to 15 years to reach the purebred level using imported pedigree semen.

UK embryo genetics will also benefit popular US commercial meat producing breeds like the Suffolk.

Food and Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “We are backing British farmers and opening up new markets for British goods around the world. Those based on both our vast food heritage and also our cutting-edge science.

“British sheep producers are rightly celebrated as some of the best in the world and this shipment will give US producers access to our premium sheep genetics.

“I’m proud of our agri-food attachés who are working hard to explore new trade opportunities like this and fly the flag for UK farmers,” he said.

Dr. Phil Hadley, AHDB trade development director, said: “We are delighted that the first high-value sheep genetics exports have been shipped to the US in what is a major milestone for the sector.

“In addition to the export of sheep meat from the UK, we hope this will be the start of another valuable trading relationship for our sheep producers and the wider UK industry.

“This again illustrates the value of AHDB’s export work in supporting commercial trade and how working collaboratively with industry and UK government delivers tangible results.

“Our levy payers have highlighted how much they value the work of AHDB’s export team and we look forward to continuing developing overseas trade on their behalf,” he said.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said: “This is great news for the sheep industry, further enhancing our reputation on the global stage.

“It is the result of hard work put in by the industry, government and AHDB, building on the wider export deal with the US which is starting to pay dividends.”