THE National Sheep Association (NSA) says it is shocked that some British supermarkets are explaining their high stocks of New Zealand lamb by claiming the domestically-produced meat is out of season.
It called the situation a bitter blow for domestic sheep farmers, who are struggling with farmgate prices that in many cases are below the cost of production.
A single lamb is now being sold for up to £30 less than a year ago but retail prices have not fallen to reflect this and encourage more people to buy British.
The NSA pointed out that the New Zealand lamb currently on supermarket shelves is not as cheap as it has been historically and called for a better pricing structure in supermarkets, a wider selection of UK cuts and better presentation on the shelves.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The weather last summer and autumn resulted in lambs growing far slower than normal and this has delayed the normal seasonal peak of production by six to eight weeks.
“Unfortunately, this peak then clashed with New Zealand imports, which has led to a severe fall in prices. In an ideal world the result would be a drop in shelf price which would stimulate more demand with the price balancing itself out, but the realities of our markets mean that this is not happening.
“While the UK always sees a seasonal peak and trough of numbers of lambs marketed, the nature of our farms means there is never a time when UK lamb is out of season.
“Across the UK we have a varied climate which results in earlier and later lambing and this in itself spreads the supply of lambs.
“In addition, when you consider the close relationship between sheep farming and our iconic landscapes and the diversity of breeds they support, it is easy to see why quality lamb is available all year round.”
The organisation urged shoppers to compare prices and not to assume New Zealand lamb is always the cheaper option.
Even if the UK-produced meat is slightly more expensive, it said shoppers should also consider the positive impact home-produced lamb has on the landscape, the environment and rural communities.
And it also asked shoppers to complain to the store manager if no British lamb is available.
Mr Stocker said: “A quick look at supermarket shelves shows New Zealand is often a very similar price to British lamb and that frequently there is a range of products and a mix of nationalities.
“We urge you to consider the UK sheep farmers, working hard in the terrible weather we have seen, and buy British lamb even if it means trying a different cut or cooking method – you never know, you may find a new family favourite.”