Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has announced the agreement of a veterinary health certificate with the US for the export of sheepmeat.

This means that Irish sheep processing factories can now apply for approval by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to supply the US market, a process likely to take several weeks. The clearance for Irish sheepmeat exports came ahead of a Bord Bia-led EU beef and lamb marketing campaign in the US.

Bord Bia figures show the US to be a growing market for sheepmeat imports, rising from 103,527t in 2015 to 166,165t in 2021. Virtually all of this was supplied by Australia and New Zealand which between them account for 70% of global sheepmeat exports.

Irish beef secured access to the US market in 2015 but has remained a very low volume market with only seven Irish factories pursuing USDA approval for beef.

Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy said a key part of promoting Irish lamb stateside will be positioning it as a premium product with high health and nutritional benefits while also highlighting Ireland’s commitment to food safety.

US wholesaler Marx Foods will be among the first to receive Irish lamb in the US and Bord Bia has said its New York office is targeting lamb buyers in the US for visits to Ireland to see first-hand the farming and processing systems.

Meat Industry Ireland has said that Irish lamb processors are working with authorities to have factories approved for export. It also said that action is needed to address quota barriers to Irish beef exports, with Brazilian beef sweeping up most of the quota by April.

Prospect for Irish lamb

While the US has disappointed for beef exports, dairy exports have excelled and there is potential for sheepmeat.

The US, like the EU, is a net importer of sheepmeat and Australia and New Zealand have until now been the only significant suppliers. Ireland is the world’s fourth largest exporter of sheepmeat, exporting 67,600t in 2021 to EU and UK markets.

With New Zealand supplying ever increasing volumes to China, there is an opening for another supplier in the US and Irish sheepmeat is likely to be followed by the UK, which is the world’s third largest exporter, into this space.