European Lamb | Irish Farming | High Quality Assurance

A Brief History of Irish Lamb Stew Along with a European Lamb Recipe

EU emphasizes on sheep farming and aims to produce premium European Lamb using Irish farming. For EU lamb sector, striving for high quality assurance is the key to break out of the competition in international suppliers.

The one thing that will pop into a foodie’s mind when talking about Irish lamb is the traditional Irish stew.

The Irish stew was once a common meal for every citizen of this country; although, now it makes in the list of comfort foods. Lamb or mutton takes place as a common ingredient of this stew alongside potatoes and onions.

History Availability of Irish stew can be traced back to early 1800s. However, what was exclusive in making this stew was its cooking over open fire; and for that, the Irish needed a cauldron.

Cauldrons were not in possession of Irish people during the ancient times and those only came from the Greeks. Cauldrons saw an introduction in early 7th century AD with their design copied from that of the Greeks.

Although, cauldrons became a primary cookware of ancient Ireland, they did not contribute to the cooking of Irish stew as of yet. Irish lamb stew required one main ingredient – potatoes, which only came to Ireland in 16th century.

Originally a South American crop, potatoes travelled through Europe and finally, made their way to Ireland. They quickly became prime nourishment especially for the country’s poor communities. Potatoes survived as one of the popular ingredients in all Irish recipes even after coming under threat during the Great Famine of 19th century.

Irish got hold of the stewing method of cooking after the arrival of potatoes and during onset of the famine. Using a suspended cauldron over an open fire, stewing quickly became a popular method of cooking that only needed a handful of ingredients.

During 19th century, mutton became a prime ingredient of Irish stew; although, today it includes lamb as well as beef. The reason why sheep got excluded from the stew was due to their production of milk and wool.

Sheep contributed significantly to the Irish economy with their milk and wool; so, mutton made it as the chief ingredient in a stew. Alongside mutton, other two constituents in a common Irish stew included onions and potatoes.

Today’s modern Irish lamb stew alongside lamb or mutton and other common ingredients can also contain parsleys, turnips, pearl barley, and carrots.

Now, other than the Irish stew, European lamb (the most popular on the globe) finds its applications in several other recipes.


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Sheep in the European Union (EU)

Sheep farming has played an important role in European since records began. From pre industrial times sheep have been an essential feature of the European pastoral landscape, producing meat, milk and at times, wool. This is due in part to their ability to adapt to local environments. Many areas facing natural handicaps in the EU are grazed by sheep.
Today sheep meat in the form of lamb is the primary output of value from the EU sheep flock.
There are about 1 million sheep producers in the EU with the UK, Spain, Greece, France and Ireland the main producing member states. The value of sheep meat production in the EU is around €6 billion annually.
Despite having a sheep flock of around 98 million head and a total annual production of over 900,000 tonnes, the EU is far from being self-sufficient in sheep meat. The EU imports over 200,000 tonnes annually, mainly from New Zealand and Australia, while it exports just over 60,000 tonnes, half of which are live animals. The live animals are shipped mainly to the Middle East and North Africa while meat products go to all destinations with increasing volumes going to the Far East.
EU lamb is recognised around the world as a premium product that commands a premium price.

Identification & Traceability

EU legislation on the traceability of sheep is based on the principle of individual animal identification with the overall objective to ensure food safety.
EU regulation 21/2004 establishes a regime of individual traceability of sheep by means of:
• Individual animal identification with a minimum of 1 ear tag
• Flock register maintained on farm
• Movement document to accompany animals when moved off farm
• Recording of ear tags onto a computerised data base at point of slaughter.
Through a system of bar codes, individual processing plants are able to trace the finished product along the production chain to the farm of origin.
This system of identification & traceability allows the consumer to have absolute confidence in sheep meat products originating within the EU.

Origin Labelling

Because of growing competition in the marketplace consumer sensitivity to origin has become a relevant issue. Origin is of particular interest to retailers who may seek to highlight the unique characteristics of lambs reared in a particular member state or region. Country of origin labelling may also be used as a “country brand” to differentiate lamb in International markets. Against this background the EU has introduced legislation that provides for the mandatory indication of origin or place of providence for sheep meat. The regulation requires food business operators, including processors, retailers and butcher shops to ensure that country of origin label information is clearly displayed on pre packed lamb products at the point of purchase.
Lamb that goes on sale to the consumer in the EU must also contain an identification mark on the pack that enables the product to be traced back to the processing plant and ultimately to the farm of origin.
This further underlines the EU’s commitment to providing maximum transparency to consumers with regard to the food they purchase.

Sustainable Sheep Farming

Sheep are amazing animals - not only do they produce meat, milk and wool but they also ensure the protection of rural areas, the maintenance of landscapes, and the conservation of biodiversity.
Sheep are also kind to the environment. Many sheep breeds can help turn rocky, dry hillsides into productive pastures. They are famously resourceful grazers capable of finding good nutrition where few other animals would survive. Sheep are less dependent on harvested grains, water and shelter than other livestock. Of all the domestic livestock raised on forage sheep require the least use of fossil fuels.
Sheep farming ties in well with the eco-friendly policy thrust of the European Union. Agri. environment measures like the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and more recently the “Greening” initiative, which aims to turn the EU into a resource efficient, green and competitive low carbon economy, are designed to encourage farmers to protect and enhance the environment on their farms by paying them for the provision of environmental services. Farmers commit themselves to adopt environment friendly farming practices that go beyond legal obligations.
There are several voluntary EU wide initiatives that help support the EU’s commitment to sustainable agriculture. Innovation for Sustainable Sheep and Goat production in European (ISAGE) is an EU wide collaboration between industry and research institutions that aims to further address the sustainability of the sector and develop strategies to respond to forthcoming challenges and opportunities.
In Ireland the commitment to sustainable livestock production is perhaps most advanced through the operation of the “Origin Green” programme operated by Bord Bia – the European Food Board. Origin Green is a voluntary initiative that enables farmers & food processors to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets, thereby reducing environmental impact, and protecting rich natural resources.
EU Sheep farmers pride themselves on producing wholesome healthy produce without sacrificing the wellbeing of the animals or the health of the environment.

Quality Assurance Schemes

In recent years there has been a rapid growth in the number of Quality Assurance schemes operating in the EU lamb sector. This has come about
due to the growing demand from customers, particularly large retailers, and to enable suppliers demonstrate due diligence at every link of the supply chain. Quality Assurance Schemes are also considered necessary to improve the competitiveness of the lamb sector.
Quality Assurance Schemes are the cornerstones of the EU’s food quality policy. Within the EU, consumer demand for products with known characteristics and certified attributes has grown. The EU has responded to this by the introduction of a number of bespoke quality schemes and associated logos - Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) & Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG). The objective is to protect & promote food products with particular characteristics linked to their geographical origin.
Sheep meat products feature prominently within these schemes and include products with such geographical variation as Connemara Hill Lamb (Ireland), Welsh Lamb (UK), Agneau Du Limousin (France) Abbacchio Romano lamb (Italy).
These schemes highlight the qualities and traditions associated with these products and assure consumers that they are genuine.
Individual member states also operate a variety of voluntary quality assurance programmes that operate in addition to the regulatory standards. Typically such schemes define a series of technical requirements that cover the entire production chain - from animal handling on the farm, through welfare and transport, product traceability in the abattoir, cutting halls and manufacturing plants. The schemes are built on ISO quality management principles and incorporate HACCP (Hazzard Analysis Critical Control Points).
HACCP is a legal requirement in every industrial operation involving the manufacture, processing, preparation, transport and storage of food in the European Union. The schemes are implemented by certification bodies accredited to the international benchmark standard EN 45011.
In many cases the schemes provide a quality logo to be displayed on the product for the final consumer. Quality logos attest to the specific quality of the product and are an indication to the consumer that the product has been produced in accordance with the highest Quality Assurance standards.

Sheep Welfare in the EU

Compassionate treatment of animals has long been a human value.
Animal welfare is concerned with the wellbeing of the animal and compliments the objectives of the Quality Assurance schemes that aim to produce safe and wholesome lamb for consumers worldwide.
Welfare standards for animals kept for farming purposes are in operation in the EU since 1998. These rules are based on the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for farming purposes and reflect the so called 5 freedoms:
• Freedom from hunger and thirst - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health & vigour
• Freedom from discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
• Freedom from pain injury and disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
• Freedom to express normal animal behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and the company of the animals’ own kind
• Freedom from fear and distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering
These principles apply at every link of the supply chain - on the farm, during transport, and at the point of stunning and slaughter.
Animal welfare regulations are routinely monitored by national Governments and kept under ongoing review.
Rules governing the functioning of the European Union recognise animals as sentient beings and require full regard to be given to the welfare requirements of animals when formulating & enforcing EU policies on Agriculture.

Sheep Breeding in the EU

There are a large number of mainstream sheep breeds in the EU. Sheep come in all shapes, sizes, and colours and there are many ways to classify them. In the European context sheep production relies primarily on 2 broad breed categories - those bred for meat and those bred for milk.
Dairy sheep are predominantly found in Southern European countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Romania, France, Bulgaria and Italy) while meat breeds tend to be found in more Northern locations (UK, Netherlands and Ireland). Meat breeds also produce wool but are kept primarily for meat while dairy breeds may also produce meat from light lambs. In the EU meat breeds account for the majority of sheep breeding output with 60% of the breeding flock designated as meat breeds. These sheep are selected and bred for their ability to gain weight rapidly and produce muscular, lean and high yielding carcases.
Alongside the mainstream sheep breeds there are numerous local or “Heritage” breeds. These are defined as breeds that are geographically concentrated in distinct and challenging regions and are adapted to their environment whether this be moorland, seashore or mountain. Heritage breeds bring genetic diversity to the EU sheep flock and are important stewards of their environment.

Lamb - The Chef’s Choice

By passing down traditional family recipes through the centuries European has developed a variety of authentic lamb dishes over hundreds of years.
Lamb is deeply engrained into the European diet and culture. Each region has developed its own traditional dishes using skills passed on from generation to generation.
Lamb is an incredibly versatile meat and pairs well with an array of different flavours from around the globe. It lends itself to nearly every cooking method from luxurious lamb racks or simple grilled chops to exotic dishes seasoned with Asian flavours to the much sought after Chinese hot pot. It is a good source of protein too and is rich in vitamins and minerals. Products originating from EU sheep farms are of very high quality. Production standards are among the highest in the word for both sheep meat and cheese both of which are renowned and exported worldwide.
Grass fed lamb may also offer some additional health benefits. Studies have shown that grass fed lamb can have:
• Less total fat - no marbling
• More heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids
• More conjugated linoleic acid - a type of fat that is thought to reduce heat disease.
In addition grass fed lamb is said to have a more distinctive “meaty” flavour due to its varied pastoral diet.
Lamb from the European Union is world renowned due to its distinctive flavour and palatability and is the first choice for many of the world’s top chefs.
Delicious, tender EU lamb is not just for Sunday - it makes a great, tasty and easy meal any day of the week.