UK ministers have been urged to negotiate a seven-year derogation from EU scrapie rules to allow the trade in breeding sheep between Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI) to continue.
The industry call followed growing concern that thousands of ewe lambs would not be exported to NI early next year after the Brexit transition period ends, despite being bought and paid for by NI farmers at UK autumn sales.
Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive, told Farmers Guardian from January 1, 2021, sheep and other live animals moved from the mainland to NI would be subject to the same conditions as those from third countries.
These included a requirement that only sheep from flocks which were monitored for scrapie over several years could enter the EU, but many sheep currently traded between GB and NI were not assessed in this way as it was not a prerequisite for trade within the UK.
“We are aware around 3,000 Blackface ewe lambs purchased by NI farmers are wintering in Scotland to reach the 12-month testing age for maedi visna,” said Mr Stocker.
“By that time, we will be out of the EU and they will have to be scrapie genotyped as part of the new rules. This is expensive and we also know the majority are unlikely to reach the genotype, a measure of genetic susceptibility, required.
“Consequently, as things stand, these sheep will not be able to be taken home by the buyer.”
Edward Adams, NSA NI development officer, warned of welfare issues for the lambs which need to be moved and ’impending mental health problems’ for buyers and sellers who are facing extreme distress.
About 9,000 ewe lambs are sent from GB to NI each year.
Mr Stocker added Defra had accepted the call for a derogation and was prepared to make the case, reporting back to industry in a matter of weeks.
A Defra spokesperson said the department was working to minimise any disruption at the end of the transition period.
The warning came as the UK Government published a separate consultation on banning live exports.
Defra Secretary George Eustice said the move would ‘strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare’, but concerns have previously been raised about how livestock would be moved from the mainland to Scottish islands if a ban was put in place.