12 July 2002

DARD sheep curbs might hit mainland

By Jeremy Hunt

A STRICT stance taken on sheep imports by the Northern Ireland agriculture department could block sales of pedigree breeding stock from UK mainland flocks during the forthcoming sales season.

And while Suffolk, Charollais and Hampshire Down breed societies have already held their premier summer ram fixtures here, breeders in Northern Ireland believe the import regulations prevent them from attending sales and sourcing new stock.

The difficulties hinge on new rules imposed on sheep imports by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) which, despite Northern Ireland being within the UK, are in-line with those covering intra-community trade in breeding sheep.

In an effort to create a united front and lobby DARD to ease its restrictions on sheep imports from the UK mainland, the Northern Ireland Sheep Breeders Development Group has been set up and is being supported by all of Ulsters 13 individual sheep breed societies.

Kevin McCarthy, Hampshire Down and Beltex breeder from County Down, has been one of the main movers in setting up the group.

"There is a great deal of confusion among breeders on both sides of the Irish Sea about regulations concerning sheep imports into Ulster. Unless we can get some fundamental change it looks unlikely that we will be able to buy stock from UK mainland sales during the coming months," says Mr McCarthy.

DARDs rules only permit the importation of sheep from flocks which have been scrapie-monitored for three years. Additionally, any sheep must remain on the farm of origin for 30 days before export.

"In many breeds there are very few flocks, if any, that have been scrapie-monitored for three years and can also meet the other health checks required by the intra-community trade requirements.

"There is also a hold-up on the establishment of the National Scrapie Plan covering Northern Ireland flocks. In my opinion, we need an NSP covering the whole of Ireland. Ideally, the scheme should be community-wide with the same rules applying across all EU countries."

Mr McCarthy says no pedigree breeding stock has been imported into Northern Ireland since 2000. "DARDs regulations are stifling the genetic progress of our sheep industry. We desperately need to bring in new genetics but at the same time we are also being deprived of revenue from UK mainland breeders, particularly those with Beltex and Texel flocks, who are keen to buy stock from us."

Although Ulster flock owners can sell stock in Eire, they cannot bring them back over the border if an animal is unsold. Livestock from flocks in Eire are also subject to the same strict import rules.

"Northern Ireland is part of the UK and it is extremely unfair that sheep breeders should be treated in this way. We urgently need a resumption of free trade with the UK mainland."

Henry Lewis, of the MLCs export department, said that the export of breeding sheep into the EU is allowed, but under the strict health regulations that are in place. &#42