UFU and NSA comment on NIO response to sheep imports from GB to NI

Wednesday, 23 December, 2020

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is frustrated following the Northern Ireland Office’s (NIO) reply at the eleventh-hour regarding sheep movements from Great Britain (GB) to Northern Ireland (NI) under the NI Protocol. In a written response NIO stated that live animals subject to controls as specified in the relevant legislation including sheep moving from GB to NI, will need to be accompanied by an Export Health Certificate. If it is not possible for a farmer to obtain a certificate for his flock, it is the advice of the NIO that ‘in the short term the current sheep would need to be traded on the GB market to mitigate any immediate losses’.

UFU president Victor Chestnutt said, “We are utterly disappointed that the NIO have left it to just over a week before the NI Protocol comes into effect to outline that if our farmers are not able to get an Export Health Certificate for their sheep enabling them to enter NI, that the only other option is to sell the animals in GB. This is not a fair or reasonable suggestion to put to farmers who have invested money and time in purchasing sheep across the water as they would do every year. Sheep sales for specialised breeds such as black faced sheep only take place once a year which is during September. This needs to be recognised as it is not as simple as going to a local livestock market which runs throughout the year. 

“The biggest issue is the additional conditions that must be met regarding scrapie monitoring and genotyping. A high proportion of sheep entering NI cannot meet the new rules that are being applied as there is currently very few scrapie monitored flocks in Scotland and under current arrangements, it takes seven years for a flock to become fully scrapie monitored.

“The UFU has made politicians in NI, London and Brussels aware of this issue for some time now. The need for an Export Health Certificate will have a serious impact on sheep farmers both in NI and GB. It will significantly minimise what has been to date, growing sheep trade between NI and GB, overnight. We cannot reiterate enough that in the UKG Command paper published on 10 December, it stated that the co-chairs of the EU-UK Joint Committee are ‘securing additional flexibilities and adaptations to support NI businesses’. However, it is clear from NIO’s letter that family farming businesses have not been included in this.”

NSA regional development officer Edward Adamson said, “If it was just as simple as selling these animals it might be a way out, but the fact that NI buyers are no longer in the market devalues these animals, plus the cost of grass keep leaves NI buyers at a considerable loss through no fault of their own. I have farmers phoning me in a worrying state of distress and anxiety but the answers we get back from the authorities show no sign of concern or compassion. In some cases, quite large sums of money are involved and livelihoods at risk if not more."