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Smith calls for EU initiatives to stimulate the EU sheep sector

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD, today called for an EU-wide initiative to stimulate the sheep sector during his address to a European Sheep Conference in Limoges, France.

Minister Smith praised the initiative of his French ministerial colleague Michel Barnier in organising the conference during the French Presidency of the EU. Minister Smith said that this conference on "The Challenges and Future of the European Sheep Sector" was a timely follow-up to the discussions at the EU Farm Council in March, initiated by his predecessor, now Tanaiste Mary Coughlan TD and to the publication of the report on the sheep sector by Liam Aylward MEP.

Minister Smith said: "There is consensus that solutions to problems in the sector must be found, otherwise, a traditional farming sector, especially in more remote regions, could disappear with the ensuing environmental and socio-economic repercussions. Action needs to be taken at EU level to address difficulties which the sector has experienced in recent years. All the main sheep producing countries in Europe and indeed further afield are experiencing problems with reducing flocks, pressure on income and producers exiting the sector."

The Minister added that he and his Ministerial colleagues at the conference were agreed that the sector has many strengths. He urged delegates not to limit discussions to the production side alone. "We must continue to focus on quality and the stimulation of demand through marketing, labelling, health promotion and generic promotion of lamb. The CAP Health Check, the Aylward report and this conference, in particular, provide the focus and opportunity to revitalise the sector and provide for its long term future," said the Minister.

Minister Smith said he was pleased with the support given by other Ministers at the conference for country of origin labelling to inform consumers at the point of purchase. Ireland has been to the forefront in pressing this at EU level for all meats including lamb.

The Minister made it clear that he is committed to supporting the sector wherever he can and will be pressing strongly in Brussels to have appropriate policies drawn up to cater for the sector and ensure its long term sustainability. He added that the sector should be a priority for any unused funds within the CAP budget.

Following the conference Minister Smith took the opportunity to meet directly with Minister Barnier on a number of issues being pursued under the French Presidency of the EU, in particular the ongoing discussions on the CAP Health Check. Both Ministers agreed to continue to work closely together on important agriculture policy areas over the coming months.

Date Released: 05 September 2008