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Irish Sheepmeat Industry

History 1








Hist 2









Hist 3


Irish Lamb – an internationally regarded premium product

Natural Irish lamb, reared in the temperate climate and near organic conditions of Irelands unspoilt countryside, has an internationally recognised reputation for quality. Its delicate flavour, wholesomeness and versatility has earned Irish lamb a special place in the hearts of consumers throughout Europe.

The production system operating in Ireland produces lambs suited to the two main market types in Europe.  Irish lowland produced lamb is favoured in the Northern European markets, while hill produced lamb, nourished on wild grasses and herbs, is the choice of the Mediterranean markets.  Ireland’s lamb processing facilities are also acknowledged for their world-class standards and international best practice procedures. At Irish Country Meats we pride ourselves on our state of the art processing facilities which facilitate the highest processing standards with a total emphasis on food safety and security.  

Irish sheep farming – facts and figures

Sheep farming is an important indigenous industry in Ireland, with widespread production throughout the country and some 35,000 flock owners at farm level. Unlike production in other European and southern hemisphere countries where large scale intensive production is the norm, sheepmeat production in Ireland remains largely a traditional farming activity, where small holdings are carefully tended by farmers with a proud tradition of excellence in food production. In terms of the overall number of ewes, stocking levels increased dramatically in the 1980s, growing from 1.5 million in 1980 to 4.75 million in 1992.  Since 1992 however, numbers have gradually declined, with 3.5 million ewes recorded in 2005.

Broadening markets

The Irish sheep meat industry is primarily export-oriented, generating foreign earnings in the order of € 240 million annually. France, the single largest importer in the EU, accounts for 60% of Irish lamb exports and this market is a dominant influence in regard to the returns of both producers and processors.

The Irish domestic market represents a growing share of lamb sales with consumption growing in line with an increasing population.  At Irish Country Meats we are continually working to increase lamb sales in Ireland, through close relationships with our customers, to deliver an enhanced product offering for consumers. We have a policy of market diversification within our export activities, working in partnership with retail customers across Europe.

Sheep industry development strategy

In 2005, Meat Industry Ireland initiated the establishment of the Sheep Industry Development Strategy Group, chaired by John Malone. The group was charged with plotting a course for the profitable future growth and development of the sheep meat sector in Ireland, to include lamb production, processing and marketing. The full co-operation and involvement of the Irish sheep farming, lamb processing and state organisations was critical in delivering a comprehensive strategy.

The Sheep industry development strategy, launched by Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan in June 2006, has made a total of 37 recommendations for the maintenance and development of the Irish Sheep sector. Irish Country Meats is an active participant in the strategy group and fully supports the implementation of these recommendations.

The outlook for the Irish sheep meat industry

In terms of lamb consumption, the domestic market is likely to continue the trend of positive growth, while consumption at European level is forecast to stabilise over the coming years. This increased consumption, combined with decreasing EU self- sufficiency in sheep meat should impact positively on Irish sheep producers, resulting in strengthening demand for quality Irish lamb. In the short term, Irish lamb production is forecast to continue to decline, although it is expected to be at a slower rate going forward.

Given the dynamics of the modern food industry, the position of lamb and mutton in the market will be determined by price, consistency, quality and service. The challenge will be to maintain consumption by existing consumers, encourage consumption in a new generation of consumers, and to have a high level of production which will provide, into the future, the basis for a strong and competitive processing industry.



Irish Country Meats, Bayland, Camolin, Co Wexford, Ireland. Reg No: 318074