Union addresses sheep concerns in Brussels

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The UFU Beef and Lamb chairman, Crosby Cleland travelled to Brussels last week to represent the UK farming unions at the EU Commission sheep expert working group.

This group meets twice a year and is currently chaired by NFU Livestock Chairman, Charles Sercombe.

In advance of these meetings for both beef and sheep, the UK unions work closely to ensure that there is a unified approach for representing UK farmer’s views in Europe.

At the meeting last week, the key areas the UK Unions lobbied on were: EU lamb import quotas – This issue was raised by members of the UFU County Fermanagh committee a number of months ago and has since been brought forward at an EU level by the UK unions. When EU lamb import quotas were first designed several decades ago around 50% of the imports were frozen carcases and 50% sheep meat cuts.

In 2014, the vast majority of lamb imported from countries such as New Zealand was in the form of premium meat cuts. While the volume of lamb imports to the EU has reduced in recent years as New Zealand and Australia export more lamb to China, their shipments to the EU have been higher value premium cuts which are competing at lower prices to UK lamb during our peak lamb season. This is undermining returns from sheep production in the EU and for farmers in the UK who also have to deal with the complications of the Euro/Sterling exchange rate.

The UK unions has argued with the Commission that lamb import quotas need to be revised because the way in which they are being used has changed significantly in the last 20 years. This received broad support from other EU farming organisations and processor representatives at the meeting. The Commission has now agreed to take our views into consideration and look at the potential to revise these quotas.

Sheep carcase classification and price reporting – Currently there is EU legislation which governs beef and pigs carcase classification and price reporting, but this does not exist for sheep. This means that across the EU, different processors could be applying different carcase dressing specifications dependent on customer specifications. This will have an impact on the weight (can be up to 0.6kg) of the carcase and ultimately what farmers are paid.

While the dressing specification in Northern Ireland for lambs is fairly consistent, the fact that there is no consistent dressing specification or price reporting across Europe makes it more difficult (but not impossible) to compare prices. The UK unions are lobbying the Commission to introduce legislation on this issue to improve consistency, transparency and fairness in the EU sheep industry.

Cross compliance – inflexible regulations are a concern right across Europe and the UK unions are lobbying the Commission to bring more tolerance and flexibility into cross compliance, particularly with missing sheep tags.

The Agriculture Commissioner has indicated that he wishes to introduce a yellow card system for cross compliance breaches and the UK Unions lobbied Commission officials (who often have very strict views) at the meeting to come in line with the Commissioner.