This affects every region of the country, from the Lakeland fells, to Exmoor, to Teesdale, where I live. People are saying, “Why does this matter? Surely this just means that there will be more lamb for the UK market, the price will be cut, and we can all enjoy more lamb this Christmas”, but the problem is that we just do not have the facilities to safely slaughter, store and freeze that volume of lamb in the UK. If the Minister plans to introduce such facilities, he needs to say so tonight, because knowing that this year’s yield of around 15 million lambs can be safely stored and enjoyed by consumers, and therefore paid for, would be of huge benefit to the 34,000 people currently employed in the industry. If that meat cannot be stored and sold—even at a knock-down price—the sector will be decimated.
The Government have said that they are aware of the special circumstances that would lead to a substantial negative effect on the income of UK sheep farmers, and that they would compensate farmers. To their credit, the Government have pledged to continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament—although obviously that might be coming sooner than was anticipated. Financial support is already included in farmers’ business plans, but it does not compensate farmers for a sudden loss of market or for feed costs for animals that they cannot now slaughter. It does not ensure that sufficient feed is available to keep lambs bred for slaughter alive. It does not create abattoir or cold-storage capacity. It certainly does not create new export markets or offset tariffs, because that would be against WTO rules.
In answer to one of my written parliamentary questions on
“We are doing all we can to mitigate the challenges our farmers will face and we have contingency plans in place to minimise disruption.”
But Ministers have not explained, and continue to refuse to explain, what those contingency plans are. The Minister’s predecessor offered from the Dispatch Box to meet me, but the current Minister then declined that invitation and has refused to discuss the issue. If a wasteful cull of millions of lambs and breeding ewes is to be avoided, measures need to be put in place now. If the slaughter and storage facilities are not in place and no deal happens, farmers will have little option but to cull their flocks. The meat will not be eaten, and the waste will be shameful.
The lack of new trading arrangements and an implementation period would mean that farmers will set about drastically reducing the size of their flocks. Chillingly, the AHDB says:
“Culling rates would record significant uplift driving the increase in adult sheep slaughterings. Quarter one of year two”— of a no-deal Brexit—
“records a year-on-year uplift in slaughterings as the remainder of the year-one lamb crop are slaughtered.”
The estimate of 3 million lambs is at the lower end of the estimates.