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Bluetongue Hurts Struggling Italian Sheep Sector

13 April 2015

ITALY – Italy’s contracting sheep sector suffered a major blow last summer at the hands of the bluetongue virus.

Figures for 2014 suggest lamb meat production dropped over 25 per cent. Market analysts put this down to Bluetongue virus and contraction caused by market forces.

Meanwhile, per capita consumption has slumped to 1 kilo domestically as imports are growing, despite a shrinking demand base.

Sardinia lost large numbers of sheep last year and the virus also swept across the mainland where Calabria and Campina were among the worst hit regions. read more 

Home to 40 per cent of the Italian flock, Sardinia had lambing rates severely reduced with analysts hesitant to make predictions about 2015 production production levels.

The virus has exacerbated an overall picture of decline within the sector, blamed on economic difficulties which have left lamb as a niche product, often only desired at holiday time – Christmas and Easter.

“The Italian sheep sector has been in some difficulty in recent years, with falling demand and production continuing in 2014,” analysts at the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) said recently.

“On the other hand imports have held up, suggesting some switch from home-produced to imported sheep meat by consumers, which is cheaper in price.”

EBLEX puts growing imports down to cheaper alternatives amid hard times for the consumer and believes a productivity improvement is vital if domestic production is to lift.

Breeding ewe numbers fell two per cent last year, which relates to the rise in live imports from Eastern Europe.

Led by Hungary, these imports have “partly offset” lower Italian lamb supply this year. Imports were up 12 per cent to 1.2 million head with Hungary accounting for almost half.

With an eye on the future, EBLEX said: “The production outlook for 2015 and any scope for recovery will partly depend upon the blue tongue situation and whether it is fully under control.

“The Italian import trade remains largely traditional in product form with carcases (both lamb and mutton) still accounting for 70 per cent of the total.

“The UK is, however, having some success in moving away from carcases and, while they still accounted for 57 per cent of the total last year, trade in chilled bone-in cuts has doubled in the last two years.”

Further Reading

You can visit our Bluetongue information page by clicking here.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

Top image via Shutterstock

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