US proposes to relax rules around sheepmeat imports from the EU

The US Department of Agriculture is proposing to change the regulations which restricted sheepmeat imports from the EU due to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

Known as scrapie here in Ireland and related to BSE in cattle, TSE was first identified in 1732 and is a fatal infectious disease of sheep and goats.

Yesterday, the USDA announced the proposal as part of a 60-day consultation period which the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is now undertaking.

Welcoming the announcement, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, said that while it is still early in the process, it does potentially provide an opportunity for Ireland to penetrate a sector of the US lamb market which can reward top quality, sustainably produced sheepmeat.

“The onus now is on the Irish sheepmeat sector to prove its credentials in areas such as traceability and secure market access as soon as the decision is formalised. This will be no easy task.”

The Minister said that this announcement is a critical first step and that his Department is already working to complete specific veterinary technical documentation demanded by the US so that Irish sheepmeat is well placed to take advantage of this latest development.

“My officials will continue to work to finalise the various technical requirements to secure Irish access to this lucrative market.”

The publication of the TSE Rule is a first step only and our priority now is to submit the necessary technical documentation as early as possible.

“In the same way as we secured first mover advantage on the beef market access we will be hoping to do the same on sheepmeat when the time comes.

“This will be a considerable challenge but nonetheless one to which we are committed in order to help advance the development of the Irish sheepmeat sector.”

Minister Creed said that the opening of this sought-after market would provide further evidence of the ongoing work to grow and develop the sheepmeat industry in accordance with the Food Wise 2025 strategy.

He said that this will help to boost the existing €230m of exports to a wide range of EU and third country markets.

“Along with the current proposal for a €25m sheep scheme as well as the various other supports and market developments, the future looks very much improved for the Irish sheep sector,” he said.