Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has called for greater support for the sheep sector.
His comments come as the European Parliament’s agriculture committee this week discussed a report on the current situation and future prospects for the sheep and goat sectors in the EU.
Mr Nicholson, pictured, speaking after the debate, said: “The sheep sector is very valuable to our rural communities, and for the environment. Sheep are often kept in our more disadvantaged rural areas across Europe, where other animals cannot be kept.
“However, sheep farmers are also very vulnerable to market forces, and over the past 17 years, we have seen at the EU level a decline in production by some 20 per cent. As with the suckler cow, many farmers are moving away from the sector altogether.
“This can partially be explained by the imports of sheep meat from across the globe. It is vital that we respect seasonal cycles in any negotiations on free trade deals, and that we curb the importation of sheep meat during our spring lamb season.
“Brexit will also likely pose some challenges for our local sheep meat sector, as at present a large proportion of lambs reared in Northern Ireland are sent to the Republic of Ireland for slaughter.”
The MEP added: “I look forward to following the progress of this report in the European Parliament Agriculture Committee.”