According to a report in the Sun, millions of UK sheep will have to be slaughtered if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.


According to the Sun, the President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Minette Batters, has said that:

"We have 15 million breeding ewes in the UK.

"For many years now, we've been exporting 40% of that to France.

"In a no deal situation, you cannot get over that tariff wall. You will have to look at slaughtering quite a large percentage of the national sheep stock."

Being me I went and checked out the UK sheep and lamb import and export figures from AHDB Beef & Lamb. And, as ever, there's a link to the report in the descriptions box below.

The latest figures I found were for 2018 and published on March the 7th 2019.

The figures were broken down for the different cuts in fresh, chilled and frozen meats from sheep and lambs and when you tot them all up you get that in 2018 the UK imported 90,320 tonnes carcass weight equivalent and exported 86,207 tonnes CWE.

That's a slight deficit where we import 4,113 tonnes CWE more than we export, which is just under 5% more that we export.

So pretty much balanced one would think. So why not eat our own meat and export/import less?

But the differences start when looking at whether the meat is fresh or frozen and the different types of cuts.

The data shows that we are a net importer of all frozen cuts of sheep and lamb as well as fresh sheep legs and boneless cuts of sheep.

And we are a net exporter of all the other fresh cuts.

So, with all the sheep wandering around the hills and dales of the UK, we import the frozen stuff and export the fresh.

Well, the truth is that it's a bit seasonal and the report says that most of the imports come from New Zealand and most of our exports go to the EU.

But one of the big drivers is the way that New Zealand exporters cut the meat and exports each to where it will get the most profit.

And the report itself does ask the question:

"So, why doesn’t the UK cut carcasses here and keep the cuts which are in demand, for example the legs, and export the rest?"

With the answer being it seems that it's easier just to put the whole thing in a lorry and transport it away to the EU to be cut up.

Now, I'm not a farmer as the nearest I get to meat production is handling the plastic covered produce in the supermarket.

So this is a layman's question – looking at the basic import and export totals, surely there's scope in the long run to up production slightly then increase the consumption and freezing of UK lamb and sheep meat in the UK and therefore no need for the wholesale wasteful slaughter of perfectly good animals?


UK lamb trade balances

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