‘Smokies’ could be worth £3m to UK sheep industry

Legalising the production and sale of singed, skin-on sheepmeat could put an extra £3.1m into UK sheep farmers’ pockets, research has shown.

The research into “smokies” followed an investigation commissioned by Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales) for Food Standard Agency Wales.

It showed that 155,000 cull ewe carcasses a year could be processed into smokies, which are particularly popular in ethnic markets.

The light golden colour and woodsmoke flavour make them a delicacy with consumers from West Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Korea and China.

These consumers are currently forced to buy smokies produced illegally, often under unhygienic conditions. It was concerns over the illegal market and the dangers to human health that prompted the FSA and other bodies in Wales to become involved.

Consultant MLCSL Consulting, which carried out the research, suggested that the average retail value of skin-on carcasses could be £20 higher than for conventional mutton carcasses.

But for farmers to take advantage of the trade they would have to comply with a set of standards.

There should be no intramuscular and subcutaneous injections into the rumps of ewes for a few months prior to slaughter.

And ewes must be sheared, leaving 5mm of wool, two weeks before they are killed, and subsequently not marked with fluids, crayons or sprays.

Some small and medium-sized abattoirs had expressed an interest in getting involved. But this would require an average investment of £75,000 in equipment by each plant, including gas burners to singe the remaining wool and scorch the skin.

Gwyn Howells, HCC chief executive, said the report was good news for the meat sector as it offered the prospect of a premium market for a new product operating in parallel with sales of top quality Welsh lamb.

“It is too soon to speculate when the FSA will be in a position to approach the EU Commission to call for a change in legislation,” Mr Howells admitted.

But the report added to the FSA’s dossier of evidence, which included reports on the meat inspection and hygiene implications.

Nick Fenwick, Farmers Union of Wales head of agricultural policy, said everything would be in place when the FSA’s commissioned work on the residues of veterinary medicines in the skin was finished.

“Things need to move ahead as quickly as possible as farmers are losing out every day smokies remain illegal.”

Dylan Morgan, deputy director of NFU Cymru, insisted that the industry must continue to drive forward efforts to change the rules governing skin-on sheepmeat.