NZ lamb leaders on European tour

New Zealand lamb leaders are back in Europe to continue relationship building with UK farmers and expand European markets.

Officials from Meat and Wool New Zealand have already visited Denmark, Ireland and parts of the UK and will visit France, Germany and Brussels before returning to New Zealand.

Speaking at a press briefing in London yesterday Meat and Wool New Zealand chairman Mike Peterson, said: "This has been a visit about relationship building and recognising that Europe is a very important market for us.

"We are looking to work with sheep farmers in the UK to develop the industry and improve international demand for lamb. So far our talks with UK farmers have been very useful."

Peterson stressed that New Zealand lamb farmers are facing similar problems to those in the UK, and needed to see prices rise as much as British farmers do.

"New Zealand farmers are facing significant costs increases and sheep income is under real pressure." he said.

"The reality is that sheep farmers across all over the world are losing money at the moment and it is likely that this trend will continue for a year or so. If farmers don't receive more for their lamb there will not be a sheep industry in the future."

Large volumes of lamb imports from New Zealand provoked outrage amongst British farmers earlier this year and some British farmers have expressed concern that supermarkets are still selling New Zealand lamb despite the glut of British lamb on the market as a result of the export ban.

Peterson made assurances that New Zealand has nearly reached its quota and there will be limited scope for New Zealand imports until the end of the year. He expressed sympathy for UK farmers struggling under the constraints of FMD and bluetongue and said that work was being done to examine the impact of the export ban on the British lamb market next year.

"Our sympathies lie with farming groups in the UK, it is a tragic situation and not one that we are looking to take an advantage from," he said.

"We are currently trying to understand what kind of overhang of British lamb there when new season New Zealand lamb comes in next year.

"There could perhaps be a shift of product to continental markets but at the moment numbers are uncertain and no one knows how much lamb will be on the UK market"

Looking to the future, Peterson said that cooperation was vital to ensure that the market remained large enough to absorb lamb produced in both the UK and New Zealand.

"New Zealand lamb product is here in the market and will continue to be here in the market," he said.

"Realistically this is a market that reacts to consumer demand. We should be working together better to open new international markets and ensure that worldwide lamb consumption continues to grow."