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Struggling Sheep Farmers Need Consumers and Retailers to Back British Lamb

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is shocked to hear that staff in some supermarket stores are suggesting UK lamb is ‘out of season’ and this is the reason for high volumes of New Zealand lamb on the shelves. This is a bitter blow for UK sheep farmers at a time when farm-gate prices are struggling and many are not receiving financial returns that cover the cost of production.

Farm-gate prices dropped to an unacceptable level in the autumn, with the value of a single lamb being up to £30 less than a year ago, but this has still not resulted in lower retail prices that would encourage more consumers to buy and enjoy British lamb. Given that New Zealand lamb on supermarket shelves is not as cheap as it has been historically, a better pricing structure in supermarkets, a wider selection of UK cuts and better presentation on the shelf would all benefit shoppers and farmers alike.

mule sheep

photo © Jennifer MacKenzie

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive says: “The weather last summer and autumn resulted in lambs growing far slower than normal and this has delayed the normal seasonal peak of production by six to eight weeks.

Unfortunately this peak then clashed with New Zealand imports, which has led to a severe fall in prices. In an ideal world the result would be a drop in shelf price which would stimulate more demand with the price balancing itself out, but the realities of our markets mean that this is not happening.

“While the UK always sees a seasonal peak and trough of numbers of lambs marketed, the nature of our farms means there is never a time when UK lamb is out of season. Across the UK we have a varied climate which results in earlier and later lambing and this in itself spreads the supply of lambs. In addition, when you consider the close relationship between sheep farming and our iconic landscapes – our hills and uplands, downland, lowland meadows and coastal marshes – and the diversity of breeds they support, it is easy to see why quality lamb is available all year round.

“We know the public value our countryside and landscape and by choosing UK lamb we can all do our bit to make sure we support the farmers who are keeping it in a condition for us to enjoy.”

The NSA offers these top tips to supermarket shoppers:-
•   Never assume New Zealand lamb is always the cheaper option – look carefully at what is on the shelf and weigh up the options.
•   Always look for British product and, even if it is a little more expensive than overseas alternatives, consider the positive impact home-produced lamb has on the landscape, the environment and rural communities.
•   If no British lamb is available, register your dissatisfaction with the store manager and explain you would like to see home-produced lamb available all year round.
•   If you were looking for a particular cut and find it is only available as a New Zealand product, consider buying a different cut from a UK-bred lamb and look up a new recipe online. Lots of ideas can be found at www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk, www.eatwelshlamb.co.uk and www.scotchbeefandlamb.com.

Mr Stocker says: “A quick look at supermarket shelves shows New Zealand is often a very similar price to British lamb and that frequently there is a range of products and a mix of nationalities. We urge you to consider the UK sheep farmers, working hard in the terrible weather we have seen, and buy British lamb even if it means trying a different cut or cooking method – you never know, you may find a new family favourite.”

National Sheep Association

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