SNP Back Irish EU Initiative for Recovery of Sheep Sector

08 May 2008
Scotland's only full member of the European Parliament's powerful Agriculture Committee Mr Alyn Smith has this week given his formal backing to an initiative to give stability and assistance to the hard pressed sheep sector.

Irish Fianna Fail MEP Liam Aylward has produced a report currently before the Agriculture Committee in Brussels, and after working with Mr Aylward on the finer points of detail Mr Smith has given it his enthusiastic backing. The comprehensive report also has the backing of the NFU Scotland, the Association of Meat Wholesalers, Quality Meat Scotland and the National Sheep Association.

The report addresses the critical state of Europe's sheep sector, and proposes urgent measures to address the structural decline in sheep production. There are many areas of Scotland where sheep farming is the only viable agricultural option and so the necessity to preserve and encourage production is absolutely crucial.

Amongst other measures, the report proposes:

  • That a new EU Implementation Task Force, comprised of members from the European Commission and the Presidency in Council be established to oversee the practical reforms needed so as to make the European sheep sector viable, competitive and profitable;
  • That the European Commission introduce an EU Regulation for the labelling of sheepmeat products, which would have an EU wide logo so as to allow consumers to distinguish between EU products and those from third countries, and which would be underwritten by a number of criteria, including farm assurance schemes, a country of origin indication, thus ensuring that consumers are fully aware as to the point of origin of the product. Mr Smith will be bringing forward amendments to ensure that existing quality logos like Scotch Lamb are not diluted in this move;
  • That the European Commission and member states must review the introduction of the compulsory electronic identification system for sheep intended for 31 December 2009 due to the difficulty in implementation, high costs and unproven benefits. Each EU member state must be allowed the discretion to decide whether to introduce electronic tagging on a voluntary basis, if they so wish;
  • That the European Commission must include lamb in the 'Community Action Plan for Public Health' in order to promote the health and protein benefits of lamb to consumers, particularly to young people who are at present low consumers of lamb products; and
  • That the European Commission must review existing import quota management regimes so as to ensure that domestically produced lamb is not exposed to unfair competition.

Speaking after meeting with Liam Aylward, Mr Smith said:

"Nobody has any illusions that the sheep sector is struggling badly, and Liam's report is a well thought out and comprehensive response at EU level to it. It is telling that it took an Irishman to come up with the strategy but I'm confident there are Scots fingerprints on it too.

"Lamb and Sheepmeat is healthy, sustainable and a vital part of vast swathes of the economic and cultural life of rural Scotland. The report explicitly recognises the environmental and cultural importance of the sector as well as the purely economic.

"The report also gives the vexed issue of Sheep ID the proper place. At a time when Scotland's farmers are on their knees, it is ludicrous topropose an ill thought out, illogical andunworkable scheme to replacefunctioning ID methods with a totally unprovennew regimen, and I hope that the Commission will pay due heed to this solid warning from the Irish, Welsh, English and Scots, together far and away the biggest Sheep producers in the EU.

"I will be bringing forward amendments to strengthen the report, and ensure that existing schemes we have in Scotland are not diluted or compromised by accident and having had a typically constructive meeting with Liam I'm confident that there will be a massive majority for the broad thrust of this in the Committee."