UK farmers told to stop bleating about NZ lamb

GERARD HUTCHING
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014

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Britain's National Farmers Union should stop bleating about cheap New Zealand lamb and focus on boosting lamb consumption, Federated Farmers says.

Top cuts of New Zealand lamb are selling for about NZ$43 a kilogram in British supermarkets, more than $10kg less than in New Zealand.

But Labour's primary industry spokesman Damien O'Connor has attacked the move by New Zealand exporters to sell to supermarket chain Tesco, which then sells the lamb as a "loss leader".

Companies that did so should be punished by losing their quota market access to Europe, O'Connor said. Silver Fern Farms sells cheaper chilled lamb through Tesco supermarkets, infuriating the NFU, who say New Zealand lamb is at the end of its season, while British lamb is at its peak.

Earlier this week placard-waving farmers marched on a Tesco stand at the Royal Welsh Show, demanding fairer returns for farmers and an end to meat imports.

Placards proclaimed "New Zealand isn't Welsh", others "Welsh Lamb is in season: where's Tesco's backing?"

O'Connor said Kiwi exporters shouldn't sell produce below the price of Welsh lamb because that signalled New Zealand lamb was inferior.

"Welsh farmers have always had a premium in the UK market. New Zealand has always struggled against them, so we should be striving to achieve a premium price, not drive down the value," he said.

Meat Industry Association CEO Tim Ritchie said the tensions were a "hardy annual" that occurred because of supermarkets' need to have quality lamb on shelves for 12 months of the year. The northern and southern hemisphere seasons generally complemented each other, but there were problems at the shoulders of the seasons.

"No-one can predict what the weather's going to do 3-6 months out, you can't plan precisely what the market demand will be, or what the production flow in another part of the world is going to be," Ritchie said.

He said Welsh farmers had had a good season, with 20 per cent more lambs slaughtered in June 2014 than in the previous June. As a result, prices had fallen.

Ritchie said New Zealand exporters had acted "responsibly" by not flooding the market, with figures showing exports to the UK had fallen 15 per cent to the end of May compared to the previous year's. He doubted New Zealand exporters were underselling lamb.

"If anything the supermarkets may have been paying more for New Zealand lamb because they would be incurring an out-of-season premium.

"We can't be held accountable for what the supermarket does, and it's not in our interest to reduce prices," Ritchie said.

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Federated Farmers meat and fibre spokesman Rick Powdrell said instead of "bagging" New Zealand lamb, the NFU and British farmers should be trying to persuade consumers to eat their product in a market where lamb consumption had fallen from 368,000 tonnes in 2008 to 277,000 in 2012.

- The Dominion Post

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