The chairman of the NFU"e;s livestock board has joined other farmers"e; leaders, ministers and MEPs from the EU"e;s main sheep producing nations at a conference to discuss ways to tackle low profitability and declining production in the sector across Europe.
Alistair Mackintosh took part in the conference in Limoges, France, which was organised by the French Farm Minister and current president of the EU Agriculture council, Michael Barnier, and followed a European Parliament report written by Irish MEP Liam Aylward which called for urgent action to be taken at an EU level to safeguard the future of the sheep and goat sectors.
Mr Mackintosh said: "We all recognise the damage that this continuing decline in both production and profit will do - not just to the long term viability of our industry, but also to the social fabric of rural communities and the preservation and enhancement of the landscape and environment in some of the most fragile and remote regions of Europe.
"Our primary aim must be to address the market issues and declining consumption throughout the EU. We must be innovative in how we market our lamb and continually look to add value through new product lines and, most important of all, secure a fair share of the retail price of lamb.
"While different countries may have differing views and priorities on how we reverse this downward trend the conference was a good opportunity to share views and ideas and begin the process of securing a long term sustainable future for the EU sheep industry."
Mr Mackintosh said there had been a firm view among the farmer representatives, and many of the political representatives, at the conference that sheep EID and individual movement recording should be a voluntary measure from January 1 2010 rather than compulsory.
He said: "Here we see technology and regulation driving our industry, taking no notice of market forces or disease control issues. We currently have a system based on individual identification, batch recording, and movement standstills which delivers a simple, efficient, and cost effective control of animal disease.
"EID and individual movement recording will only accelerate the decline in production and profitability of our sector and further damage our competitiveness on world markets".