Empty ewes criticised
MARKET support mechanisms for the sheepmeat sector are encouraging the "empty ewe" syndrome and causing the loss of market opportunities at home and abroad say meat whole-salers.
They claim that with current market conditions too many producers are content to run a ewe flock to collect the subsidies without trying to produce lamb and they want financial support to be switched towards the encouragement of lamb production.
"The British market is under-supplied with home-produced lamb which is one of the products for which our conditions are most suited," said Janet Lim for the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers, following its annual conference.
"It is of great concern to us that too many producers may be taking their eyes off the ball of satisfying market needs, and that means quality as well as quantity. We want to see good quality, well muscled lambs with a high yield of lean meat marketed more evenly throughout the year.
"Lamb meat must be produced at affordable prices for a quality product. There should be no misunderstanding about this because lamb meat has no commercial future as a luxury food item."
John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, also admitted to concern about the empty ewe syndrome but put this down more to the depressed state of the market, largely due to export problems, than the subsidy system.
"We have the strong £, a virtual ban on live exports and an unacceptable carcass from the point of view of the French and Italians due to the need to remove the backbone under the specified risk materials legislation here."
However, some carcasses have been exported in recent weeks and there was a real hope for an early bilateral agreement with the French on the split carcass issue. "All we will need then is for the £ to go down against the French franc," said Mr Thorley.