THE shambolic U-turn by Defra this week on defining sheep by age – rather than by dentition – with regard to carcase splitting rules, shows just how iniquitous the UK’s Brexit stance is becoming.

In a seemingly desperate measure to have a catch-all process for sheep carcases to appease ‘new’ buyers of UK lamb should we face the tariff-heavy prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the Government has gone back on its word. Just who will be in the market for 4-5m tariff-free lambs from these shores is up for debate, but the arbitrary decision to revoke a promise made last autumn that rules were to be simplified for this year’s main exporting period has quite rightly provoked much anger from the farming industry.

This was an industry which had become fed up with Brussels’ red-tape, confused by all-EU regulations which meant nothing to us and which had been told by pro-Brexiters that a standalone Britain would slash through the red tape and processes. This decision flies in the face of that because it actually means that the new carcase splitting rules would have been OK had we stayed within the confines of the EU, but now it wants to appease buyers unknown elsewhere in the world? Maybe they want to send lamb to New Zealand!

The implications are much wider than this, though, and given the increasingly belligerent marketing spin coming out of the US – our agriculture is ‘a museum’ according to a leading Trumpist – the sheep ageing U-turn does not fill the industry with any confidence that government will rebuff challenges to our market by refusing to take chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. Like a dog wanting its tummy tickled, it would appear that the UK is going to be a roll-over.

Even more insidious is the flood of cheap beef coming across the Irish Sea and being put in cold stores for short-term keep and Cryovaced so that it can stay in a cold store for much longer. The shelf-life of vacuum-packaged fresh beef primals and sub-primals is generally reported as approximately 35 to 45 days, with a longer shelf-life of 70 to 80 days possible when refrigeration is optimally low. That means such storage will choke the life out of the home-produced product for months to come.

We also hear of Irish lorries queuing up at meat plants in Northern Ireland, while UK-bred cattle face a waiting time of weeks to have prime animals killed and the rumour-mill abounds with stories of how some of the big lamb killing houses are slowing down killing lines in fear of what Brexit might bring. Even if a sliver of this is true, then the prospect is a daunting one for the red meat industry as a whole.