30 November 2001

Welcome lift for market as lamb exports resume

By James Garner

LAMB exports are underway again giving the market a welcome lift. Shipments left Scottish plants destined for northern France last week, and other parts of the UK resumed trade earlier this week.

Oriel Jones and Son, Llanybyther, now part of Dungannon Meat, confirmed that it had despatched its first load to northern France and planned to ship a total of 3000 carcasses in its first week of trading, with lighter lambs going to Italy and Spain.

"Farmers are benefiting from good demand across Europe where lamb is in short supply, but the situation will change as more plants start shipping," said Oriel Jones.

The first load of 700 standard weight carcasses left Cwmni Cig Mons Llangefni abattoir for Germany, France and Belgium on Tuesday, while a shipment of light lambs was destined for Italy.

Farmers Fresh was also exporting from the companys Kenilworth abattoir. But Lloyd Maunder does not expect to begin trade until the New Year because Devon has only just been recommended for foot-and-mouth-free status.

In the meantime, export quality lambs are worth a premium. Mr Jones was paying 40p/kg more this week. But Gareth Jones, who farms inside an at-risk area at Cilmeri in Powys, said his lambs were worth 20-25p/kg less than those that qualified. "Farmers in F&M infected areas are being hammered yet again."

However, the mere sniff of exports had already forced average lamb prices higher, said Meat and Livestock Commission sheep economist Jane Connor, who reckons the expectation of exports was the main driver for increases.

Last weeks standard quality quotation was up again with R3L grade lambs worth 197p/kg deadweight, and early indications suggest the market had continued to rise this week.

There are concerns, however, that this bullish trend will be unsustainable if French market prices fall, warned Mrs Connor.

A further bar on trade could be a decision by AFSSA – the French food standard agency – to remove spinal chord from all lambs over the age of six months from Jan 1.

This has serious implications for exporters to France – it took 67% of UK shipments in 2000.

Junior Defra minister Lord Whitty told an MLC lamb lunch in London this week that the commissioner responsible for food safety, David Byrne, had asked France to defer its unilateral action until it had supplied more evidence to the scientific steering committee.

But David Croston, MLCs head of sheep strategy, said a unilateral ban could have been worse. "Exports will not be at normal levels next year because of F&M, so some exporters are looking to supply primal joints to the French market.

"Its not the only market in Europe – Germany and Belgium look set to take 9000-10,000t of product each. And Mediterranean countries will take 10,000t of light lambs from July onwards." &#42