New Zealand and changing lamb consumption

A recent article in the Farmers Weekly magazine, claiming New Zealand exporters are “misusing their EU quota” and “flooding” the UK lamb market, fails to recognise that trends in lamb consumption have changed considerably since the early 1980s. 

In response to what consumers want, NZ has virtually consigned the carcase trade to history and, like UK exporters, has turned its attention to supplying chilled cuts – the growth of which has been led by UK supermarket requirements to supply their customers with quality lamb all year round.

Export statistics indicate that NZ has not filled its European sheepmeat quota since 2009 – the country’s exporters having developed other markets, particularly China. Furthermore, 2015 statistics show that rather than “flooding” the market, chilled lamb exports to the UK were actually down on the previous year as retailers supported higher domestic production and increased the volume of British lamb available for sale on shelves.

The reference to NZ increasing its supply at “sensitive” times of year once again ignores the fact that this is in response to market demand. A high proportion of November imports are supplied for Christmas promotional activity by supermarkets. As these promotions are ‘leg driven’, retailers use NZ lamb to balance their offers at this time of year rather than creating a carcase utilisation problem for UK processors by sourcing exclusively from British product.

Given the UK is pushing hard to increase its own sheepmeat exports, it must accept that, in a global marketplace, there will always be competition. Perhaps the interests of UK farmers would be better served by the National Farmers’ Union focusing on free trade agreements rather than worrying about outdated quota arrangements.

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