Brexit Minister Stephen Barclay has not ruled out the possibility that, if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal in place, and the country has an excess of unsold sheep, industry professionals may be ordered to slaughter many of those sheep.
A new report has highlighted the significant upheaval a no-deal scenario would bring to the red meat sector, as the export trade of sheepmeat to the EU could be almost completely wiped out and prices could drop by 24 per cent.
According to the report, as soon as the UK leaves the EU, exports would probably need to be subjected to checks and administration, which would incur costs and have a disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as having one ‘unlucky load’ stopped could cause major losses.
The report goes on to say that there would still be some demand form the EU in the short term, as the demand for UK light lamb is specific, but price rises may mean that European consumers look for cheaper protein or an alternative source of lamb over the longer term.
Lamb could be heavily discounted in the short term to sell it, but the brunt of this cost would fall on farmers. Meanwhile, alternative markets could not replace European trade quickly, as it takes time to build exports after securing market access.
As one of the report’s authors commented, the reason why the EU is so important to UK meat exporters is that it has been built up for years and years. Therefore, the report urges farmers to get ready for upheaval to their business.
However, a spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that a “a widespread cull of livestock is absolutely not something that the Government anticipates nor is planning for in the event of no deal”.