Deep concern over lamb imports through Belfast port

Northern Irish farmers say they are “deeply concerned” about the volume of lamb imported through Belfast port in 2015 from Australia and New Zealand.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is calling for EU import quotas from the two counties to be revised by the EU Commission to stop imports undermining domestic lamb production.

Union deputy president Ivor Ferguson said figures from the Department of Agriculture (Dard) suggested the equivalent of 120,000 lambs had been imported.

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“Nearly 2,500t of southern hemisphere lamb was imported.  We believe this was mostly premium cuts such as loin chops and legs,” said Mr Ferguson. 

It represents one-quarter of the carcass weight of lamb slaughtered in Northern Ireland last year – equivalent to about 120,000 lambs at a carcass weight of 21 kg, he said.

The UFU said it was often told by retailers and processors imports were needed when the local supply was not there to meet demand.

However, the Dard figures showed more than 80% of the lamb imported came in between April and October. 

“This is deeply concerning for local farmers who saw their income drop considerably in 2015.  While we know the euro affects sheep prices, the news that big volumes of cheap lamb are imported  will further dent farmers’ confidence in the supply chain,” he said.

“By bringing in the bulk of imports during the peak season here, this was a deliberate effort to increase supplies and so put pressure on local lamb prices.”