ANALYSIS – Lamb exports from the UK are healthy and growing but much more consumer focus is needed to improve the dwindling domestic market.
Exports now account for over a third of lamb produced in the UK but the picture back home is one of decline, farmers heard at the Three Counties show ground this week.
These were the key points made at the unveiling of the National Farmers Union and National Sheep Association joint vision for UK industry at the National Sheep Association (NSA) Event.
Laying out the strengths and weaknesses of UK lamb, NSA CEO Mr Phil Stocker described a bittersweet scenario in which exports have lifted from 19 per cent ten years ago to 36 per cent while domestic consumption has almost quartered over the last 20 years.
“Per capita consumption has fallen from 7.5 kilos to 1.9 kilos per year,” he said.
But he added: “We now have trade access for lamb to 69 countries. We have traditionally had a strong export link with France, Germany and Belgium but efforts in Asia have seen Hong Kong become the second destination for UK lamb behind France.”
To turn domestic buying around farmers must listen to what the consumer wants, said National Farmers Union livestock board chairman Mr Charles Sercombe.
His message was that the outlook was positive but that the experience of eating lamb has to be driven along environmental and quality lines.
“If we blindly go along producing something people aren’t interested in then consumption will continue to decline.
“The consumer has not always felt they have value from the eating experience.”
He stressed that the future was positive, despite being beset with challenges, and emphasised that young people were vital to a sector that can meet the growing resource demands of the world.
Summarising the strength of the UK sheep sector, he added: “We have the tools to be part of the solution to the world’s problems and the breeds and management skills to do so."
He said the joint vision calls for less ‘overbearing red tape’ with a view to streamline the industry.
“This will be a key driver, said Mr Stocker. “We have to be producing less with more.”
Huge scope for improvement remains in the domestic market but losing the export market is a ‘scary thought’, warned English Beef and Lamb Executive sector director Mr Nick Allen.
“We are now 36 per cent exports in this country and have opportunities all over the world,” he said.
“We have to hold on to this – it is so critical.”
He acknowledged the importance of the Muslim community both to prime lamb and cull ewes, accounting for 25 per cent of sheep meat produced.
He described the Halal market as a ‘straight competition’ between lamb and chicken.