14 June 2002

Spring lamb numbers build

A BEAR market seems to be setting in for the spring lamb trade despite its good early run as the trade sees prices ease as domestic supply begins to build.

Much of the future for the new season trade now depends on stimulating domestic consumption and whether France pushes ahead with its unilateral ban on lambs with spinal chord intact from Jul 1, says industry pundits.

Already prices after the Jubilee week have been pegged back, due to the sheer weight of lambs coming forward, says Peter Crichton, of East Anglian-based Hill Farm Sheep. He says that lambs are trading at 125-128p/kg liveweight this week (265-272p/kg deadweight equivalent), which is back on last weeks values.

"The k is helping us a bit as well and if it stays where it is I will remain reasonably optimistic over lamb prices."

However, Juliet Davies, head lamb buyer for lamb processor HM Bennett, reckons the price is a bit high to clear volumes of lamb through the multiple retailers. Recent deadweight prices of 270p-275/kg are too high for price promotions.

"There are plenty of lambs for the home trade and the price is relatively expensive on a unit basis – it will need to come back a bit before the multiples can run special offers and develop bigger volume sales."

Jane Connor, sheep economist for the Meat and Livestock Commission, is also sure that prices will probably fall a bit more this week.

"The gist of the market is that prices will ease a bit – to a small extent this is numbers driven, but consumer demand is not as strong as it was during the [Jubilee] holiday period either."

More worrying for the longer term is the impending decision by France on the removal of all spinal chord from lambs over six-months-old.

Its unilateral decision should come into force on Jul 1, but behind the scenes negotiations have been ongoing. A decision is expected next week once the French have formerly ratified their new government.

"It will have a crucial impact on our market. If the ruling comes in we will not be able to sell lambs to France irrespective of their age. This would effectively remove three-quarters of our trade.

"We have no watertight age verification system in this country and as the measure is deemed illegal, DEFRA is not prepared to make official certification."

This means that even if every lamb had its spinal chord removed there would be no official certification to accompany and so it would not be allowed into France.

"We are awaiting the decision and hope that with all the background work that has gone on, that reason will prevail," adds Mrs Connor. &#42