Defra Minister pledges support for UK sheep sector

21st January 2021

The National Sheep Association (NSA) welcomed Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Victoria Prentis MP as guest speaker at the first of its new Breakfast Club webinars on Wednesday.

Joining NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker and NSA Chairman Bryan Griffiths, Minister Prentis engaged with a large online audience discussing the current challenges faced by the UK sheep sector.

The debate kicked off with an overview of the situation the sector finds itself in today, covering issues over export health certificates, lack of facilities at border control points for live animal movements, contentious challenges with the Northern Ireland Protocol and the overburdening of bureaucracy and paperwork associated with exports since 1st January 2021.

Mr Stocker reports: “We were very pleased to be joined by Victoria Prentis for the first of our Breakfast Club webinars and thanks must go to her for giving us her time.

“It was comforting to hear the Minister was well aware of administrative issues currently faced by those seeking to export sheep products and encouragingly it sounded as though her team at DEFRA is working hard to alleviate some of the problems.”

With discussion moving onto the Minister’s vision for future farming and payments for public goods, with a focus on the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), NSA Chairman Mr Griffiths emphasized the vital need for more detail on what schemes sheep farmers will actually be able to access. Mr Stocker stressed the importance of recognition for early adopters of the new schemes. He continues: “With sheep farming already being intrinsically beneficial for the environment, biodiversity, soil health, carbon storage etc, many of the proposed schemes seem to benefit more intensive systems who are looking to switch towards being extensive. Many of our nation’s sheep farmers are already farming in a manner that meets many of the schemes’ requirements.

“Ms Prentis did show support in the webinar for the view that sheep farming is already working harmoniously with nature, producing high-value quality product that needs to be rewarded accordingly so we hope this early recognition will be given.”
 
Important discussions during the meeting also included conversation on the DEFRA consultation on ending live animal exports for slaughter with the Minister declaring that despite the consultation being currently open, any actions that will follow it are not yet set in stone.

Mr Stocker also raised NSA’s position on the necessity for Home Office approval to demonstrate recoverable stun slaughter to the Islamic communities and also regulation changes required for the legal production of ‘skin on sheep’. Reassuringly, the Minister supported this position. NSA anticipates that headway can now be made in legislation to ensure this can be achieved.  

Mr stocker concludes: “This was a very positive meeting with the Minister expressing a willingness to continue work with our industry to get it right.

“This was the first of our Breakfast clubs and pleasingly our most successful NSA webinar to date. We do hope that those who joined us found the session of interest and will be sure to join us for our next webinars that once again feature some knowledgeable and influential names from the sheep farming world.”

NSA now looks forward to the next webinar on Wednesday 27th January, once again at 8.30am, titled ‘NSA Breakfast Club – Going it alone: An early morning debate about future trade of UK sheep meat’.

Joining NSA for the webinar will be AHDB International Market Development Director Phil Hadley providing an overview of recent market activity, Farmers First Director Mike Gooding discussing how to create opportunities for UK sheep trade whilst ensuring standards are maintained, and European Director for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Ben O’Brien providing an interesting insight on how New Zealand has built its successful lamb export market.

Interested parties wishing to register for the Breakfast Club webinars or find out more should visit the NSA Virtual Event website or to simply register to join the next morning meeting on Wednesday 27th January at 8.30am please click here.

Further enquiries should be made to [email protected]