19 November 2001
Sheep sector reform vital, says union

By FWi staff

EUROPEAN agriculture ministers must seize the opportunity to help the sheep sector shed its “Cinderella status”, say farmers leaders.

The European Union Agriculture Council of Ministers will debate reform of the sheepmeat regime on Tuesday (19 November).

National Farmers Union deputy president Tim Bennett, who will be in Brussels, said ministers can turn the sector around and give it a sustainable future.

The new regime should recognise that sheep producers have some of the lowest income levels of all sectors of agriculture, said Mr Bennett.

And while sheep production is a fundamental element of the grassland management, this role is being threatened by unsustainable returns, he warned.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of the foot-and-mouth crisis and year-on-year falls in returns in the sector.

Mr Bennett said the regime must recognise that the EU is only 80% self-sufficient in sheepmeat and that imports from outside are increasing.

The NFU is lobbying for a top-up of this years Sheep Annual Premium. Ewe premiums should be 17 per head and not the 6 or 7 forecast, it claims.

Mr Bennett said the forecast ewe premium for 2001 was nothing more than an insult to sheep farmers in England and Wales.

While the UK has been hit by disease restrictions, the Continental market has been buoyant with some of the best producers prices on record, he said.