6 October 1995

Survey shows lamb price differences are widening in EU

By Philip Clarke

DIFFERENCES in lamb prices between member states are getting bigger, despite the introduction of the common ewe premium in 1989 and the single European market in 1993.

That is the main conclusion of a recent survey by Dublin-based consultants McIver & Associates commissioned by the Irish Food Board.

For example, the study shows 18kg Irish and UK carcases fetching about 15fr/kg dw (192p/kg) at the main Rungis market in Paris, compared with 22fr/kg (282p/kg) for French lamb. It also shows this differential has widened in recent years, from about 3fr (38p) in 1991 to nearer 8fr (102p) in 1995.

Asked to explain the difference, 70% of buyers at Rungis said it was due to consumer preference for lamb of French origin, while 30% said they paid more for the "freshness, consistency and delivery".

As well an innate sense of patriotism, this also reflects differences in the end product, as most French lamb is reared indoors.

But the Irish Farmers Association sees this as clear evidence that the price gap can never be bridged and has latched onto the report to support its claim for an £8 a head ewe premium "top-up" for Irish sheep producers.

"When the common ewe premium was introduced in 1989 it was assumed that EU prices would converge," said head of livestock, Kevin Kinseller. "In fact the opposite has happened. We have been let down by this basic assumption."

The combination of weaker prices in France (which takes 80% of Irish lamb) and supply pressure means early lambers received £10 a head less than last year, while mid-season lambers got £6 less, claims the IFA.

Although UK producers have also suffered from weaker lamb prices this season, the NFU is more cautious about any return to different levels of ewe premium for individual member states.

It argues that unravelling the current system would create winners and losers and, with Mediterranean countries keen to get extra payments for their light lambs, there is no guarantee that north European producers would benefit. &#42