US lifting of EU sheepmeat ban ‘paves way’ for Irish lamb exports

US consumers eat barely a tenth as much lamb as Irish consumers

The US market for lamb and mutton imports is €886m, says Bord Bia

The US market for lamb and mutton imports is €886m, says Bord Bia


Bord Bia, the State food agency, says the decision by US authorities to drop an import ban on European sheepmeat will “pave the way for full market access” to the US for Irish lamb producers.

The US department of agriculture has rescinded the ban that was put in place in the 1990s after scrapie, a disease in sheep, was detected in some European countries at around the same time as the BSE scare in cattle.

Bord Bia says it will begin to promote Irish lamb and other sheepmeat in the US “in coming months” as a premium product there.

“Through engaging with key importers and customers over the coming months we will pave the way for the launch of lamb in the US,” said Henry Horkan, Bord Bia’s manager in the US.

“This is vital at a time when diversification into international markets has never been more important to optimise the value returned to Irish producers.”

Irish officials from the Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia will lead a trade mission to the US in the spring, which will include meetings with US lamb importers.

While the US decision opens the door for Irish lamb producers, the market in the US for sheepmeat is small compared to other meats, and also in comparison with the lamb market in many other countries.

The US market for lamb and mutton imports is €886 million, says Bord Bia. New Zealand supplies more than three-quarters of this, with Australia accounting for the rest up to 99 per cent. The market for imports is said to be growing at about 2-3 per cent annually.

Tiny amounts

Figures from the US department of agriculture show Americans consume tiny amounts of lamb compared to other meats. A study showed that in 2017 the average American consumed 48.8kg of chicken annually, 25.8kg of beef, 23.6kg of pork, but only 0.4kg of lamb.

In contrast, the average Irish person consumes almost 10 times as much lamb as Americans, even though consumers in the US eat one and a half times as much meat overall as Irish consumers per head.

Lamb is often seen as a “gamey” meat in the US, and along with mutton it is consumed there mostly by Muslim immigrants.

The American Lamb Board operates a website promoting US producers which urges consumers to “feed your adventurous side”.