Farmers fear a 40 per cent rise in meat imports from New Zealand – priced more than a fifth cheaper than home-produced lamb – could put them out of business.
Under a new trade deal between the two countries, an extra 35,000 tons of New Zealand lamb can be sold here over the next four years and then all import quotas will be removed after 15 years.
UK farmers say they will suffer, with shoppers already shunning British lamb because it costs significantly more than Kiwi meat – even though it has to be transported almost 12,000 miles to get here.
Welsh pub owner Sian Shepphard is just one of many who says she has been forced to switch to New Zealand lamb – saying Welsh lamb is ’34 per cent more expensive’.
Although International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan claims British farmers should not be worried, National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters says the deal ‘could damage the viability of many British farms in the years ahead, to the detriment of the public, who want more British food on their shelves, and to the detriment of our rural communities and cherished farmed landscapes’.
Farmers fear a 40 per cent rise in meat imports from New Zealand – priced more than a fifth cheaper than home-produced lamb – could put them out of business (stock)
Welsh farmer Wyn Evans argues that the deal is skewed to help New Zealand, with scant opportunity for the UK to export since for every ton of lamb meat eaten by the six million population, New Zealand exports almost 50 tons.
The plight of British lamb producers can be seen vividly on the shelves at Sainsbury’s.
If you want a leg of lamb, there are two choices. Both British and New Zealand fresh meat is priced at £11 per kg. However, a frozen leg – only from New Zealand – comes in at £8.57 per kg.
The £5.58 difference for a typical 2.3kg leg is surprising given shipping costs have increased fivefold over the past 12 months. New Zealand’s lamb is also cheaper despite its farmers not getting subsidies – whereas UK farmers (with 22.5 million sheep, three per cent of the global total) – receive £3 billion.
UK farmers fear, too, that the Kiwis will engage in an export battle with Australia, thus reducing prices even more and further hurting our sheep meat industry.
National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters says the deal ‘could damage the viability of many British farms in the years ahead, to the detriment of the public, who want more British food on their shelves, and to the detriment of our rural communities and cherished farmed landscapes’
With 39 million sheep in New Zealand – around seven for every human – and a population density of 18 people per square kilometre, compared with 276 in England, sheep farmers in lush grassland areas such as Wairarapa, North Island, have an in-built advantage. Here, many of Brussels’ regulatory burdens, which add to the cost of producing meat, remain in place despite Brexit.
‘The cost of producing lamb in New Zealand is around 63 per cent lower than here,’ says NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay.
‘This is largely because New Zealand has fewer regulatory burdens and because its farmers benefit from greater levels of government and industry investment in innovation and technology.
‘Crucially, they also have a properly resourced export strategy with agricultural trade counsellors based in target markets.’
A frequent complaint of UK farmers has been the mountain of paperwork for moving sheep – based on rules set by Brussels that require every detail put on a database.
By comparison, New Zealand’s National Flock Recording Scheme improves yield, measuring the performance of ewes so the best can be selected for breeding.
Thanks to all the extra space, New Zealand farms are larger than here. One in Wairere on North Island has a flock of 7,000 sheep – compared with the average 460 for a British farm. Yet only four shepherds look after those 7,000 animals.
Sheep are rotated between 90 30-acre neighbouring paddocks to make efficient use of the grass. In Britain, by contrast, sheep are usually moved on expensive lorries.
Donald Trump may have enjoyed his saddle of Windsor lamb at a state banquet in London in 2019 but British sheep farmers fear that fewer foreigners – and more worryingly, fewer British families – will buy their produce in future.