US authorities have officially lifted a decades-long ban on imports of British lamb in a deal worth an estimated £37 million to the UK sheep industry in the first five years.
British farm levy bodies confirmed US authorities have removed the small ruminant rule – introduced more than 20 years ago to ban imports of lamb from countries where scrapie disease had been identified in sheep.
They said work has been ongoing to finalise the trade deal, and UK processors will be able to ship British and Scotch lamb across the pond in 2022 following final agreement on Export Health Certificates.
“This is fantastic news for our sheep producers and exporters, and we are delighted that US customers will have the opportunity to experience our high-quality lamb products in 2022,” said Dr Phil Hadley, international market development director at UK levy body the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.
“The new legislation also unlocks opportunities for quality UK sheep genetics, which presents a further valuable opportunity for the UK sheep sector.”
He said the lamb deal complemented existing trade deals for British beef and pork to the US, which were worth £22m to the industry in the first nine months of this year.
Scottish red meat levy body Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), which oversees and promotes the Scotch Lamb brand, welcomed the deal.
The organisation’s director of market development, Tom Gibson, said: “This exciting new opportunity will be one our exporters of Scotch Lamb will be keen to grasp and maximise trade opportunities with potential customers in the US.
“QMS will be working closely with industry and the government to support the development of our export trade to the US.”
National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker, hailed the deal and said lamb exports to the US had been banned since 1989.
He said: “I believe there are great opportunities in the USA that will benefit British sheep farmers but also benefit the appreciation of lamb by USA consumers as a quality, tasty, and highly nutritious food produced to exacting environmental and animal welfare standards.
“We also know there is a strong demand for UK sheep genetics in the USA – semen and embryos. Many British sheep breeds are present there but are numerically too small to have an adequate gene pool, so the demand for our genetics is strong and is already being asked for by USA sheep breeders.”
News of the US lifting its ban on British lamb was first announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a trip to Washington DC in September.
However, Mr Johnson was accused of misleading sheep farmers after leaked emails from Defra suggested his claims were misleading as the ban had not yet been lifted.