The charge to the committee (see Appendix A) was to review the development and current status of the sheep industry in the United States and to examine challenges and opportunities for the future. The study was to examine factors that have led to the current status (e.g., regulation, product pricing, and international trade) and discuss the various challenges the industry faces (e.g., disease, predation, genetic resources, land stewardship, and international trade and exchange rates). All sectors of the industry were to be examined, including meat, wool, live animals, pelts, milk, byproducts, and supporting businesses.
The study was in response to a congressional request to the National Academies in the Agricultural Appropriations Bill (P.L. 109-97) and was supported by funds received from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To prepare its report, the committee reviewed previous studies and scientific publications on the sheep industry, examined historical and current statistical data, conducted statistical analyses, held in-person interviews with representatives of key segments of the industry (both traditional and emerging), and conducted a survey of wool experts.
Although specific events, such as the end of World War II and the repeal of the National Wool Act, are often given as the cause of the decline of the industry, in fact many events and issues have contributed. Some of the more often cited factors are:
Labor loss during World War II;
A negative American G.I. experience with mutton during World War II;
Changes in regulations and permits for grazing on public lands and endangered species regulations;
Competition from other meats and other fibers;
Changes in consumer preferences;
Loss of the National Wool Act and the Incentive Payment programs;
Foreign wool production subsidies;
Competition from imports along with an appreciation of the U.S. dollar against Australian and New Zealand currencies in the 1990s; and
Concentration in the U.S. packing and feeding industries.
Despite the continuing decline in the U.S. sheep industry, there are reasons for optimism about the future. Developments have occurred that