EUROPEAN politicians have backed plans to enhance support for sheep and goat production via the Common Agricultural Policy.

The EU Sheep Meat Forum had recommended that the CAP offer more rewards for sheep farming in areas with natural constraints, and that principle now has the backing of MEPs on the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

In particular, the MEPs want to maintain the voluntary coupled aid for sheep and goat farmers, extend the agri-environmental payments to pastures used for sheep and goat grazing and better support farmers who do more in terms of animal welfare.

EU farm unions Copa and Cogeca welcomed the agreement , with sheepmeat chairwoman Michèle Boudoin underlining the benefits of the sector for maintaining biodiversity and keeping rural areas alive.

"But there are many challenges facing the sector and incomes remain fragile," she said. "It is important to ensure that the market is balanced and that producers have sufficient money to be able to produce. Strong support via the CAP is essential for this."