‘THE MASS slaughter of lambs must be avoided in the event of a no-deal Brexit’ – this was a message delivered by the National Sheep Association, who believe that if the right steps are taken via contingency support, unnecessary culling could be avoided.

This comes in response to the failure of Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay to rule out this worst case scenario - that millions of sheep will need to be slaughtered if export access to the EU is cut off by sky high WTO tariffs.

NSA and Defra have both been working on potential contingency plans for several years to rule this option out and neither include culling livestock in any of their Brexit proposals.

NSA Chairman Bryan Griffiths commented: “The slaughter of prime lambs ready to go into the food chain, providing high quality, premium lamb products is an absolute worst-case scenario and NSA is continuing to work closely with Defra ministers and civil servants to provide industry support and prevent it happening.”

The challenge for the UK sheep sector, which exports nearly 40% of total production, is that peak lamb production roughly coincides with the date the UK could crash out of the EU.

Even if the UK obtains third country status with the EU, allowing it to continue trading with France and other major buyers of UK lamb, this would likely result in the implementation of WTO tariffs of up to 50% which would be catastrophic for the sheep industry.

Mr Griffiths explained: “The most likely scenario after a no-deal Brexit is the UK trading on WTO terms. This in turn lands sheep farmers with the significant problem of tariffs, which for sheep meat is somewhere between 40 and 50%. This is a problem that will need to be overcome as we currently send some 96% of our sheep meat exports to the EU,” he continued. “However, the solution isn’t just to shoot the animals – the Government must work closely with our industry to be creative in its thinking to find the best way forward to underpin the sheep meat export market until we can regain lost ground.”

NSA is calling for the Government to provide assurance that every workable solution will be tried and implemented, which NSA is confident would provide the necessary support before considering such a radical resort as destroying stock.

Mr Griffiths concluded: “NSA recognises it would be illegal under WTO rules for the Government to simply offset the cost of tariffs but the destruction of prime lamb would be disastrous for our industry and every other avenue must and will be explored first.”

NSA is in regular discussions with Defra and has offered alternatives to the Government’s current support proposals that it believes would better support the most vulnerable areas of the sector.