NZ defends stance on UK lamb imports

New Zealand is not to blame for poor returns on UK and European sheep meat prices, according to  Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s chairman Mike Petersen.

Petersen held meetings with European farmers and red meat representatives earlier this month, in response to their concerns about the low price of home-grown lamb. Industry members from the lamb sector were critical of the "competition" New Zealand (NZ) lamb was bringing to this country.

Yet despite Petersen’s stance, head of trade development at Eblex Peter Hardwick told that lamb from NZ had played a significant role on depressing the price of UK lamb. "We don’t share their [Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s] view and we believe that the imports, particularly of lamb, plagues prices right through until the late autumn," he explained.

Hardwick added that the imports have an effect on the UK market, that volumes had increased and there was an issue with NZ exporting such cheap legs of lamb here. "The issue is what they are importing, which is lamb legs at a lower price and at a promotional time of the year. This is directly competing with our production.

"NZ imports into the UK for January were up 77% and unit values 25% cheaper. Even taking into account lower imports in January 2012, this is a massive increase. They were 35% higher than 2011 levels in volume and 20% below 2011 levels in price, so by any measure this swing – increase in volume, decrease in price – has been a very significant factor," Hardwick said.

Meanwhile, Petersen claimed that it was adverse weather and disease in the UK that had led to higher costs and later domestic production. He said: "This has been compounded by an early Easter, coinciding with the traditional pattern of sheepmeat arriving in Europe from New Zealand and other exporting countries."

Petersen also drew attention to the struggle NZ farmers had been facing. He said sheep farmers in his country, such as those here in the UK, were also struggling with "unsustainable returns for lamb", adding: "We agree that stronger prices are needed to restore confidence and enable all sheep producers to take advantage of future opportunities for our quality sheep meat products."

Meanwhile, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA) Phil Stocker told that he agreed in part with Petersen and explained: "I agree that NZ lamb imports are not entirely to blame for the run of poor UK lamb prices." He added that a range of other factors, including poor weather, affected the price of UK lamb.

He said: "However, NZ imports were certainly part of the picture and the timings of NZ imports and the fact that the volumes coming in were not whole carcases but legs and loins caused a massive disruption in our domestic market. My opinion is that NZ sold unnecessarily weakly into the UK market, at levels that didn’t even give their farmers adequate returns.

"It unnecessarily damaged confidence at a time when the long-term and global picture is still positive, risking an undermining of valuable, and socially important, production capacity."


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