Irish lamb and sheep meat to have full access to US market under new deal

McConalogue to lead major agrifood trade mission to US this week

Irish lamb and sheep meat will have full access to the American market under a new agreement reached between Ireland and the United States department of agriculture.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the deal on bilateral veterinary certification would allow Irish sheep meat plants to formally apply for approval to export to the US.

The announcement of the agreement came as the Minister prepares to lead a major agrifood trade mission this week to the United States which includes visits to Chicago, Ohio and Washington DC.

Minister of State Martin Heydon will have engagements in Texas and Mexico.


European sheep meat exports have been excluded from the US market since 1998 due to the presence of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) in certain European Union countries.

However, moves have been under way for some time to have this ban reversed.

The new agreement follows on from the publication last December of a US department of agriculture rule which removed restrictions on exports of most sheep and goat products from the EU.

Mr McConalogue said: “This agreement provides full access for Irish sheep meat to the US market. It marks another welcome move in the diversification of overseas markets for Irish sheep meat in line with the Food Vision 2030 goal of accessing and developing new market opportunities in priority markets. It is the result of diligent work by my officials and the Embassy of Ireland in Washington DC, following the lifting last December of the US ban on EU sheep meat exports.”

“The speedy agreement on certification conditions comes after many years of preparatory work; in particular, US recognition in 2019 of the equivalence Ireland’s sheep meat inspection system with US domestic standards. It is, therefore, very much a testament to the high standards and reputation of Irish sheep farming. Our sheep farmers are world class producing a safe, sustainable and healthy product that is in demand in markets across the globe.”

The Minister said it was now up to industry working with his department to apply for and complete the plant approval process, over the coming months.

“I hope to see exporters take advantage of this niche opportunity as soon as possible”, he said.

Growing consumption

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said: "There has never been a better time for Irish companies to export lamb to the US, with Bord Bia research showing that lamb consumption is growing amongst consumers, particularly in the younger age categories in North America. "

“In June, Bord Bia launches a three-year EU co-funded beef and lamb promotion in the US, called ‘Working with Nature’. This campaign sees Bord Bia investing €1 million in marketing and promotional seminars, events and promotional activities from 2022 to 2025. This programme shows Bord Bia’s ongoing commitment to developing sustainable business relationships for our industry.”

Bord Bia’s research suggested the import volumes of sheep meat to the US had increased from 103,527 tonnes in 2015 to 166,165 tonnes in 2021.

Of last year's imports, about 68 per cent was frozen and 32 per cent was chilled. Australia and New Zealand account for the majority of imports to the US, representing 98 per cent of all imports in volume terms.

The Minister said the US was a key market for Irish agrifood with exports valued at €1.3 billion last year.

Ms McCarthy said the US was now Ireland’s second largest export market after the UK, with exports up 22 per cent on 2020.

Beef exports to the US reaching about €36 million in 2021, which was almost five times higher than the level achieved in 2017.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent