Slaughter of the lambs all because of Brexit

Slaughter of the lambs all because of Brexit

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Monday 5, August, 2019

IT HAD TO HAPPEN.  At some point as we close in on leaving the EU the Remoaners would come up with something so absurd that the lunacy of their argument could only be appreciated at distance.  This explains why the Independent  editors allowed this article, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-no-deal-farming-agriculture-sheep-lamb-animal-welfare-a8992311.html, with the incredulous headline, “No-deal Brexit could cause mass slaughter of UK lambs..."

Oh the calamity!  The disaster that awaits us!  Then I had a wee think and the penny dropped.  Let's be honest here.  What were farmers planning to do with those lambs if not slaughter them?  Isn't that why they are bred, to be slaughtered?  It's enough to trigger Clarice Starling with her memories of lambs screaming on the farm when she was a young girl.  Well for dear Clarice it's all rather sad but for the grown-ups in British media there is no such excuse.  Lambs are slaughtered and if anyone can tell me how we can get meat off them otherwise please do write in and let me know.

The article doesn't hold back.  It quotes none other than the head of the NFU who explains the problem at the heart of the matter,

"that the UK is unable to eat the amount of lamb it produces and depends on trade relations with France, which buys 40 per cent of the nation’s sheep meat, to sell on the product."

What rot.  Have you seen the price of lamb in the shops?  Is it a wonder demand is low?  In a fast moving world families simply don't have the same amount of time to slow roast a lamb joint and much prefer to flash fry some chicken breast or pork sausages instead.  It is an expensive meat, poorly marketed given the clear health value of grass fed meat.  The government that has told us for years red meat gives us cancer (it doesn't) now are panicking no one might want to buy the stuff. 

But compared to other countries we don't consume especially large amounts and less than half per person than the average Greek. We are on a par with France while in central Europe sheep meat just isn't that big a deal. Mongolia manages to chomp through a whacking 46kg a year of sheep meat per person, almost two imperial pounds a week!

Then again this is hardly such a shock to Eurosceptics. Fundamentally we have a farm policy stuck in the 1950s which like anything EU-based is slow to reform and is now completely out of kilter with UK consumer demand. Hence we spend hundreds of millions a year subsidising an industry that has to export 40 per cent of its output to survive and relies on subsidy for about 80 per cent of its profit. We also have upland hills denuded of grass and wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, some of the recent flash flooding may have something to do with the run-off characteristics of the countryside.

New Zealand junked subsidies a long time ago and successfully adapted though I think a conservative approach can be applied in the UK.  A Royal Commission on Upland Farming is long overdue.  What do the rest of us want out of all this?  Should we really be spending money on sheep instead of schools or children's shoes?  This is not rhetoric.  Many families would benefit substantially from benefits in kind such as school clothing as well as a reduction in tariffs on a whole range of goods.

Given that sheep farmers are some of the lowest paid farm workers why are we bothering carrying it on?  With 80 per cent subsidy we could no doubt re-open woollen mills in Halifax or coal mines in Fife but really what are we doing subsidising millions of sheep that no one seems to want or be able to afford at a certain (subsidised) price?

It may be that a mass slaughter of sheep to supply, or hogget, or mutton to consumers this Christmas would be no bad thing.  At least the price would fall.  Argentina went as far as banning the export of its prized beef a few years ago to drive down prices and boost consumption. Argentina remains one of the biggest consumers of beef in the world.  Why export what we subsidise in a tax-paying democracy where people live out of foodbanks and cheap ready meals? 

We all need to graduate from Ovine University and take big decisions on how we face one of our oldest industries with the vast acres of land it consumes.  We no longer farm fur, we no longer have a massive woollen industry nor do we mine coal.  2019 may be remembered in coming decades as the Year of the Sheep.  If there is a case for a profitable sheep meat sector in these islands let the market make it.  I cannot think of another primary industry with such a reliance on subsidy. 

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