NSA calls for Government support to avoid mass post-Brexit sheep cull

Destroying sheep after the UK leaves the EU could be a ‘worst-case scenario’ for the industry post-Brexit, the UK’s Brexit Secretary has warned.

However, the National Sheep Association has called on the Government to act urgently, saying such dramatic action can be avoided if the right steps are taken imminently.

The NSA said that, if done correctly, contingency support would be enough to support the industry and prevent the mass slaughter of lambs in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay this week refused to rule out that millions of sheep will need to be slaughtered if export access to the EU is cut off by sky-high WTO tariffs.

NSA chairman Bryan Griffiths said: “The slaughter of prime lambs ready to go into the food chain, providing high quality, premium lamb products is an absolute worst-case scenario and NSA is continuing to work closely with Defra ministers and civil servants to provide industry support and prevent it happening.”

The challenge for the UK sheep sector, which exports nearly 40% of total production, is that peak lamb production roughly coincides with the date the UK could crash out of the EU.

Even if the UK obtains third country status with the EU, allowing it to continue trading with France and other major buyers of UK lamb, this would likely result in the implementation of World Trade Organisation tariffs.

Griffiths explained: “The most likely scenario after a no-deal Brexit is the UK trading on WTO terms. This, in turn, lands sheep farmers with the significant problem of tariffs, which for sheepmeat is somewhere between 40 and 50%.

“This is a problem that will need to be overcome as we currently send some 96% of our sheepmeat exports to the EU.

The solution isn’t just to shoot the animals – the Government must work closely with our industry to be creative in its thinking to find the best way forward to underpin the sheepmeat export market until we can regain lost ground.

The NSA is calling for the Government to provide assurance that every workable solution will be tried and implemented, which the NSA is confident would provide the necessary support before considering such a radical resort as destroying stock.

Griffiths added: “NSA recognises it would be illegal under WTO rules for the Government to simply offset the cost of tariffs but the destruction of prime lamb would be disastrous for our industry and every other avenue must and will be explored first.”

The NSA is in regular discussions with Defra and has offered alternatives to the Government’s current support proposals that it believes would better support the most vulnerable areas of the sector. However, neither NSA nor Defra’s proposals include the culling of livestock.