The EU Sheep Meat Forum, set up by farming commissioner Phil Hogan, has recommended an increase in coupled support payments to help the ‘vulnerable’ sheep meat sector in a new report.
Joanna Briggs, policy officer at the National Sheep Association (NSA), welcomed the report but raised concerns about increased CAP support for sheep farmers on the continent in light of Brexit.
She said: “Payments coupled to livestock numbers is not something the UK Government had an appetite for even before the EU referendum result, and many UK livestock farmers and NSA have reservations themselves, but if it is taken up across Europe at a time when our Government is looking to replace existing agricultural support with a post-Brexit successor, we could find ourselves at a huge competitive disadvantage in the future.”
Other recommendations in the report included providing EU funding for a sheep meat promotion scheme, increased support for young farmers entering sheep production and the creation of organisations which could collectively negotiate prices for sheep farmers.
It also highlighted the public goods delivered by sheep farming businesses such as preserving sensitive ecosystems, preventing erosion and floods and supporting rural tourism.
Ms Briggs added: “The NSA believes the UK Government should be aware of the report, not least because its very existence is a result of pan-EU concern about the fragility of the sheep sector and sensitivity of lamb as a product.
“This is as true in the UK as it is anywhere else in Europe. NSA will be highlighting the report recommendations that are pertinent to the UK, but we also need to be aware of the recommendations that look likely to be taken up by other EU member states and could therefore affect sheep farmers here.”
Brexit’s impact on the trade of sheep meat was noted in the report as a particular challenge. It said “existing and historic trade flows should be fully re-examined and a trade policy solution found that best accommodates the needs of the sector.”