15 March 2002

Anger over claim live lamb exports hit carcass trade

QUESTIONS are being asked about the contribution live sheep exports make to the price farmers receive, with some meat traders convinced they undermine market returns.

Welsh abattoir owner and exporter Owen Owen, of Cig Mon Group, believes the live lamb trade competes directly with his carcass business in key outlets such as France and Spain.

"If you study the historic data, it is clear that prices actually start to diminish as live export numbers increase, making it more difficult for me to sell carcasses.

"It is a nonsense to suggest that live exports soak up the surplus and support prices. If they are to have any chance of regaining market share, they will have to undercut the carcass trade."

He dismisses the idea that live shipments and deadweight sales serve different markets in Continental Europe.

"At the end of the day, there is only one consumer – the housewife.

Oriel Jones, who slaughters sheep at Llanybydder, Carmarth-enshire, agrees. "We would have a far steadier trade without live exports.

"Once live lambs are slaughtered on the Continent they are sold as home-produced anyway. Importers always get a premium on home-produced, so they cancel carcass orders as soon as they see a surplus. This does not do our trade any good at all."

But these views are disputed by live exporters and farmer representatives. "There is a specific market for live lambs, especially the lighter sorts that are not so suitable for deadweight marketing," says David Owen, chief executive of Farmers First, which is involved in both trades.

"Some parts of the Continental market only want whole animals. They have specific markets for the heads, skins and intestines.

"The live trade is especially important for lighter out of spec sorts, which would cost a fortune to put through a UK abattoir. To say live exports drag the price down is a nonsense."

NFU livestock adviser Kevin Pearce adds: "While the live export trade is not as big as it used to be, it is still important for some sectors at certain times.

"Last year we were able to get rid of light lambs on promotion to the supermarkets, but at only about £10/lamb." &#42