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Sheep Farmers to Withhold Lamb in Protest

29 July 2015

UK – No lambs will be sold at market next week if a protest movement fully takes hold in the UK sheep sector in reaction to low lamb prices and supermarket power.

The initiative has gathered momentum via social media - #NoLambWeek and @NoLambWeek – in the hope that a clear statement is made to the public.

Lamb prices have slumped since March, reaching a six year low this summer

However, some say the campaign risks promoting vegetarian diets, with suggestions made that staging a #buylambweek would be more productive. 

The decision to stop selling lambs is in protest over a testing market situation seeing “poor sourcing decisions” by supermarkets and unsustainable prices. 

This was the markets assessment of National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker, who ruled out “militant action” such as the protests carried out by French protestors.

A tweeted message from @NoLambWeek carried the message: “We could block roads with tractors but that just annoy the public (sic). Or we could do nothing and complain.”

Mr Stocker said the NSA was concerned about an “air of resignation” around the “silent majority of farmers”, adding there was a “huge amount of frustration” with some operations planning lambing changes for 2016.

Deadweight lamb values for June were slightly over £1/kilo below those for June 2014, with a nine per cent loss in share of retail price, according to AHDB Beef and Lamb.

Large numbers of farmers have taken to twitter to express discontent, with many pointing out the effect a weak euro is having on trade.

Mr Stocker echoed this point, although said some supermarkets are not sourcing 100 per cent of their lamb from British farms.

Supermarkets under any doubt what a Welsh supermarket fridge “should” look like in Wales were shown last week at the Royal Welsh Show. Welsh farm union NFU Cymru championed Welsh red meat by stoking a fridge solely from welsh dairy beef and lamb products.

Union president John Davies urged retailers to stop “intermingling” imported meats.

Farmers are questioning why supermarket lamb prices have not fallen, despite the price paid to the farmer falling by 27 pence per kilo since last year.

AHDB Beef and Lamb has shown that, even with a drop in lamb supply, prices have been significantly behind the five year average and 2014 levels since March.

In Scotland, farmers are getting 20 per cent less than last year and, according to NFU Scotland, receive less than 50 per cent of retail value.

Mr Stocker said: “There is a huge amount of frustration out there at the moment, as many of the factors currently forcing the price down are outside the hand of producers.

“While the exchange rate and export trade is far removed, everyone one of us can walk into major UK supermarkets and see the lack of support from some retailers.”

He called for more innovation in the retail sector, greater focus on lamb burgers and a wider variety of cuts.

“We need to re-enthuse our domestic market about lamb, and with supermarkets being the vital link between us and consumers, there is a role there to be played.

“Several sheep farmers have commented to me that the commitment just wasn’t there to, for example, risk high input early lambers and they will not continue in future. My message to the retailers is an urgent ‘use it or lose it’.”

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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