Creating a value for the fifth quarter has provided important additional income for every UK lamb slaughtered. Jeremy Hunt reports.
The rapidly expanding export market for fifth-quarter lamb products is “voracious” and will provide a valuable buffer against fluctuations in the market for traditional cuts, says EBLEX – but sheep producers still have an important part to play in ensuring these products are marketable.
“There are tremendous export opportunities for fifth-quarter lamb products. As well as the heart, kidney and liver, we’re seeing markets for many less obvious parts of the carcass that we once would never dream had any value.
“There are now volume buyers for tendons, connected tissues, tails and intestines, as well as those parts needing further processing such as the stomach and digestive tract. The skin and hide trade is also part of this market.
“Although many sheep producers feel they haven’t got any control over the quality of the products, that’s far from the case,” says Phil Hadley, EBLEX senior manager in the South.
He cites the significant increases in liver fluke over the past two years as something that sheep farmers can influence.
“Keeping sheep fit and healthy doesn’t only have a direct impact on their performance and profitability, and the ultimate value of the traditional parts of its carcass. It’s now increasingly important in terms of the saleability of parts of the animal that we haven’t previously considered had any real worth,” says Dr Hadley.
He urges sheep producers to recognise the importance of the expanding fifth-quarter export market and the role it has to play in providing a “buffer” for the sheepmeat marketing sector.
“It’s good news for producers and good news for processors. If there are fluctuations in the market for the prime cuts and bone-in lamb, the value of the fifth-quarter products will help to buffer the situation – and that’s going to be beneficial to sheep producers. Fifth-quarter products help to prop up the lamb price in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, who are well-established in this marketplace.”
Sheep producers should appreciate these materials have previously been considered a waste product that incurred a disposal cost.
“This material used to end up in the bin and bins don’t get emptied for free. To have established a value for it creates an important additional income source for every UK lamb that’s slaughtered,” says Dr Hadley.
“This is good news for the whole supply chain. It’s a market we haven’t exploited before because of export restrictions but now it will provide more opportunities to help the lamb sector maximise returns from every animal. Every part of the chain – from producer to processor – has a part to play in this to keep the sheepmeat market moving forward.”
Historically, fifth-quarter products didn’t generate income and were often retained by the abattoir to help cover the cost of slaughter with no cash charge to the sheep producer. Now they represent an opportunity to add value to a carcass.
A spokesman for a major London-based meat exporter said he didn’t think EBLEX were over-estimating the interest in fifth-quarter products.
“We’re selling more than 50t a week of a range of these, mainly to China. There’s a good demand for breast bones, spare ribs, testicles and fillet bones and we believe the market will continue to grow,” said the spokesman.
But Dunbia boss Jack Dobson says he remains “cautious” about the financial benefits to the sheepmeat trade.
“This is still an unpredictable marketplace. You need a lot of testicles to make up a tonne load just as you do for any other type of offal. Even if it’s considered as zero-rated and you can avoid the cost of paying for disposal, there’s still the cost of boxes and freezing,” says Mr Dobson.
Dunbia are currently fulfilling orders for fifth-quarter products to the Far East and some EU countries, but Mr Dobson views the trade as “making a contribution to the rent” rather than a major source of income.
“We’re selling fifth-quarter products where we can but this is a tricky market to be in. What has happened to skins is typical. We salt them and have been sending them out to China but it takes six weeks to get them there. This summer we saw the price collapse before they’d even arrived so it does have its problems.”
* Edible tissue (red offal) -including liver, heart, kidney and tail – as well as a market for sheep intestines to be used as casings for sausage production.
* Inedible tissue (green offal) – which usually requires further processing prior to consumption or manufacture. These products include stomach, digestive tract and skin. The skin has the most value of all the in-edible tissues for use in making products such as rugs, clothing and leather goods.
* About 40% of UK lamb livers are unsuitable for consumption because of fluke damage.