The United States has received its first shipment of ovine embryos from the United Kingdom. This comes after the ban on sheep and lamb imports from countries affected by BSE (mad cow disease) was lifted in 2021. The hope is that this will lead to regular trade in ovine genetics between the UK and the US, satisfying the strong demand from American customers who want to source directly from Britain.
The shipment, which is worth approximately £400,000, is a result of the US legislation enacted in 2021 that ended the 33-year embargo on lamb and ovine embryos from countries previously affected by BSE. By using imported UK embryos, American producers can achieve full pedigree status for a breed within a single generation, whereas it may take 10 to 15 years for stocks bred with imported semen to reach the purebred level grading.
US commercial meat-producing breeds, such as Suffolk, will also benefit from UK embryo genetics. This shipment is the culmination of the collaboration between the UK sheep meat industry, the UK Export Certificate Partnership (UKECP), the government, and AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board).
Phil Stocker, the chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), welcomed the news and emphasized the positive impact it will have on the sheep industry’s global reputation. He acknowledged the efforts of the industry, government, and AHDB, highlighting the fruitful results of the wider export deal with the US.
Dr. Phil Hadley, AHDB’s trade development director, described the shipment as a significant milestone for the British sheep sector. He expressed the hope that this would be the start of a valuable trading relationship for sheep producers and the wider UK industry, in addition to the export of sheep meat from the UK.
Mark Spencer, the food and farming minister, commended the support for British farmers and the opening of new markets for British goods. He highlighted the reputation of British sheep producers and how this shipment would give US producers access to premium sheep genetics, showcasing both the rich food heritage and cutting-edge science of the UK.