The mass slaughter of sheep in the event of a no-deal Brexit is the 'worst case scenario' and can be avoided if government undertakes contingency support, sheep farmers say.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay this week refused to rule out the possibility that millions of sheep would need to be slaughtered if UK crashed out of the EU.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) has been working on potential contingency plans for a number of years and refutes the proposal.
Instead, the body said that contingency support would be sufficient to support the industry and prevent such a drastic move.
The challenge for the UK sheep sector, which exports nearly 40% of total production, is that peak lamb production roughly coincides with the date the UK could leaving with no-deal.
Even if the UK obtains third country status with the EU, allowing it to continue trading with France and other major buyers of UK lamb, this would likely result in the implementation of WTO tariffs.
NSA Chairman, Bryan Griffiths the slaughter of prime lambs ready to go into the food chain is an 'absolute worst-case scenario'.
He said the sector is working with government to prevent this from happening.
“The most likely scenario after a no-deal Brexit is the UK trading on WTO terms. This in turn lands sheep farmers with the significant problem of tariffs, which for sheepmeat is somewhere between 40 and 50%.
“This is a problem that will need to be overcome as we currently send some 96% of our sheepmeat exports to the EU.
“However, the solution isn’t just to shoot the animals – the government must work closely with our industry to be creative in its thinking to find the best way forward to underpin the sheepmeat export market until we can regain lost ground,” he said.
Sheep farmers are calling for the government to provide assurance that 'every workable solution' will be tried and implemented.
Mr Griffiths added: “The destruction of prime lamb would be disastrous for our industry and every other avenue must and will be explored first.”
The sector is in discussions with Defra and has offered alternatives to the government’s current support proposals.