US to accept British lamb for first time since 1989

British lamb will be able to be exported to the United States for the first time since the late 1980s
British lamb will be able to be exported to the United States for the first time since the late 1980s

The United States will lift its ban on imports of British lamb, Boris Johnson has announced, a move the sheep sector says will help maximise trade opportunities for UK farmers.

A ban on both British lamb and beef imports to the US has been in place since 1989 due to concerns around BSE, commonly known as 'mad cow disease'.

Boris Johnson made the announcement following talks with President Joe Biden at the White House.

“I can tell you today that what we’re going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades-old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb,” the prime minister said.

“It’s about time too. And what we’re wanting to do is make solid incremental steps in trade."

The National Sheep Association (NSA) welcomed the announcement, saying it would increase demand for British sheepmeat within the US.

According to the trade body, the UK is the third largest exporter of sheepmeat globally, but American consumption of the meat is currently 'very low'.

However, it said the new deal could help stimulate interest in lamb and mutton through "exporting high quality British sheepmeat that reinspires interest".

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: "This creates another opportunity for our industry to maximise trade opportunities and we have always seen the US as being a potentially important market.

"After the domestic market, which takes 60 – 65% of UK production, the EU is still our largest export market and is on our doorstep.

"However, access is more difficult than it was when we were part of the EU. It’s essential to maintain EU access but is also important to work on any market that gives us future potential.”

Mr Stocker noted the wider opportunities presented by the lifting of the ban: “We shouldn’t expect to see any sudden surge in volumes going to the US, but we do know there is strong demand for UK sheep genetics – semen and embryos.

"Many British sheep breeds are in the US but are numerically too small to have a strong gene pool so the demand for our genetics is strong."

The US's ban on British beef was lifted in September last year in a deal thought to be worth £66 million over the next five years.