NZ lamb bosses heading for UK

New Zealand lamb leaders are heading for Europe in a bid to resolve the lamb import row.

Officials from Meat & Wool New Zealand will meet with members from the National Farmers' Union (NFU), the National Sheep Association (NSA), EBLEX and the Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) in the wake of rising concern over the effects of New Zealand lamb imports on the UK market.

Meat & Wool New Zealand chairman, Mike Peterson, will also meet with the Irish Farmer's Association (IFA) following protests held by farmers outside Marks & Spencer in Dublin.

Farmers in the UK are angry over the affect they claim New Zealand lamb has had on the British market. Although New Zealand exporters are not exceeding their quota, UK producers claim they are selling lamb at a heavily discounted price which means that supermarkets are buying more than usual.

This has caused a slump in the market, with both UK farmers and farmers from New Zealand receiving poor prices for their lamb.

During January and February of this year imports have already increased by 11.9% on the same period as last year. This means that up to the end of April UK deadweight lamb prices were on average 11.3p/kg lower than the same period in 2006.

William Taylor, Farmers For Action (FFA) Co-Ordinator for Northern Ireland has said that superkmarkets pushed for the very low prices from New Zealand farmer processors and purchased more lamb under contract in return. Now they have to use up that lamb, because of contracts, before purchasing British lamb.

Taylor also accused supermarkets of setting themselves up for a second profit run at the expense of UK farmers, now that lamb prices in the UK are so low.

Gareth Vaughan, president of the FUW, has also blamed leading supermarkets for the slump. He said it was perfectly obvious that they did not have a social conscience about the drastic effects their cheap food policy had on agriculture worldwide.

"What all this brings home to us is that during a period of declining subsidies we are increasingly at the mercy of the open market," he said.

However, Peter King, chief livestock advisor for the NFU, said that supermarkets are not entirely to blame as they will inevitably try to increase profit margins. Instead, he believes that New Zealand farmers and processors are to blame for undercutting each other in order to win British supermarket contracts.

"New Zealand lamb exporters have done a great disservice by undercutting each other," he said, "New Zealand farmers are out of pocket and farmers in the UK are in a dire situation."

King believes that in order to secure a fair price for lamb it is vital for producers in the UK and New Zealand to work together. This will be the main topic under discussion when the Union meets with Meat & Wool New Zealand.

"We want to see how we can make the situation better and ensure this doesn't happen again," he said.

"Hopefully we can find a way to work together and guarantee that sheep farmers in both countries have a sustainable future."

Meat & Wool New Zealand are due to hold a press conference this Friday to talk about the issue.

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