THE farming industry in Cumbria could be put at risk if the UK leaves the EU, a government minister has warned. 

Environment secretary Liz Truss made the comments during a visit to south Cumbria amid concern that an EU exit could put the livelihoods of 10,000 sheep farmers nationwide in jeopardy.

During her trip to Plumgarths Farm just outside Kendal, the environment secretary singled out Cumbria as a county that would benefit from continued EU membership.

She said: "Sheep farming is incredibly important for this part of the country. It's vital for tourism, and it's vital for the beautiful landscape.

"It's not just what sheep farmers do for the landscape which is incredibly important here in the Lake District. It's also the contribution of the food, the local culture and the local economy.

"Farm shops, local cafes and restaurants are growing very strongly and when people visit an area they also want to experience the cuisine and the taste as well.

"That's an incredibly important asset for the Lake District."

Mrs Truss said that outside the EU, tariffs could add an extra £155m to the cost of lamb and mutton exports. It's feared that in turn, that could make British lamb a less attractive prospect for Europeans, when compared to New Zealand and Australian competitors.

She added: "If we left the EU, would countries like France carry on importing our lamb? We know what happened in the late 1990s with beef. The French banned British beef from entering the French market and we had to go to the European Court of Justice to get that overturned.

"In total, 40 per cent of the lamb we produce goes to the European market. At the moment we can't get our lamb into America and we can't get it into China. We're working very hard to get our lamb into those markets, but the EU is a fantastic market right on our doorstep.

"What being in a single market means is that our farmers have free access to those markets and get a big income from them."