By James Garner
LAMB exporters have seen demand increase this week as French shoppers turn their backs on beef.
As the BSE crisis across the Channel builds, lamb appears to be gaining market share, although it is difficult to establish exact numbers of lambs imported from the UK.
Lamb prices last peaked shortly after March 1996, when BSE broke in the UK, but no-one is willing to talk the lamb trade up again, believing the export market is far too fragile.
Farmers First group marketing director Mike Gooding says that export demand is up, particularly in heavier lambs.
This suggests that lamb has replaced beef to some extent in the French market.
Despite being good news for UK lamb finishers, there is huge concern about any BSE and scrapie link.
Mr Gooding believes the market is sitting on a knife-edge and lacks confidence about its future.
“Food safety issues may make consumers less inclined to eat meat, and concerns are that it may become a backlash against red meat, rather than a choice between beef and lamb.”
But HM Bennetts Juliet Davies says: “Lamb will remain popular in France until Christmas – as long as nothing outside our control happens.”
In the short-term, prime lamb demand will increase, particularly as supply tightens, pushing prices up.
Many lambs now need feeding to finish, or are poorer quality Mule wether lambs, she adds.
This may lift the market for 15-21kg smart, lean lambs which are ideal for export. This is already being seen in the live market, with several auction marts reporting “sharper” lamb sales, particularly in the export weight range.