First UK sheep embryos shipped to the US in 35 years

The first UK ovine embryos have been shipped to the United States following the lifting of a long-term ban in 2021 on sheep and lamb imports from countries previously affected by BSE.

It is hoped the move will kick-start regular trade in ovine genetics between the UK and the US, allowing exporters to meet strong demand from customers across the pond who are eager to source direct from Britain.

The shipment, valued at around £400,000, follows the enacting of US legislation in 2021 that lifted a 33-year embargo on lamb and ovine embryos from countries previously affected by BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease).

Using imported UK embryos will allow US producers to gain full pedigree status for a breed within one generation, while stocks bred with imported semen may take 10 to 15 years to reach purebred level grading.

UK embryo genetics will also benefit popular US commercial meat-producing breeds like the Suffolk.

The shipment was a culmination of collaborative efforts between the UK sheep meat industry, the UK Export Certificate Partnership (UKECP), the government and AHDB.

Welcoming the news, Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said: “This is great news for the sheep industry, further enhancing our reputation on the global stage.

“It is the result of hard work put in by the industry, Government and AHDB, building on the wider export deal with the US which is starting to pay dividends.”

Dr Phil Hadley, AHDB trade development director, said the shipment of high-value sheep genetics to the US represents a major milestone for the British sheep sector.

“In addition to the export of sheep meat from the UK, we hope this will be the start of another valuable trading relationship for our sheep producers and the wider UK industry,” he remarked.

Commenting on the news, food and farming minister Mark Spencer said: “We are backing British farmers and opening up new markets for British goods around the world – those based on both our vast food heritage and also our cutting-edge science.

“British sheep producers are rightly celebrated as some of the best in the world and this shipment will give US producers access to our premium sheep genetics.”

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