Survey reveals disappointing lack of local lamb on NI supermarket shelves

Wednesday, 16 October, 2013

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said it is shocked and dismayed by the results of its recent survey of Northern Ireland lamb on local supermarket shelves, which revealed a disappointingly low proportion of local lamb being stocked by some retailers. The survey was carried out by the UFU Hill Farming Policy Committee during a two week period in mid-September this year.

UFU Hill Farming Chairman John Sheridan said; “Mid-September is prime lamb season here in Northern Ireland, so you would expect the shelves to be full of local lamb. Yet despite the much publicised promises and reassurances from the major retailers to both consumers and producers to stock local products, when it comes to lamb many are missing the mark. 

“While this is only a snapshot and not an exhaustive investigation, it is consistent with a recent survey carried out by EBLEX in England and gives a clear indication that some of the major supermarkets’ commitment to local lamb is questionable. Tesco and Asda seem to be the worst offenders. Both had high proportions of New Zealand or Australian lamb on their shelves at a time when plenty of local lamb was available.  On the other hand, LIDL, M&S and Sainsbury’s were doing their bit to support local producers. During the survey period, LIDL were only selling Northern Ireland or Irish lamb, while M&S and Sainsbury’s were only stocking Northern Irish and GB lamb. In the wake of the horse meat scandal it is refreshing to see some of the big retailers showing their commitment to local meat, whereas others have made promises but it remains to be seen if these are being delivered on, particularly in relation to lamb.”

The results are particularly poignant given the recent fiasco where Tesco told a customer that “lamb is not in season at the moment in the UK, we have to source our supply from elsewhere” despite September being a peak time for lamb across the UK, including Northern Ireland.

John Sheridan said, “I think it is safe to say that the Tesco comments were astonishing. They have since backtracked but I think the damage has been done. Why do they insist on stocking New Zealand lamb at a time when there is abundance in the local supply? We want to see retailers’ promises to support local producers extend across all sectors, including lamb. This is not the time for lipservice and retailers would do well to make a real, tangible commitment to supporting our local lamb producers.  After the horse meat palaver, retailers vowed to shorten the supply chain and source more locally.  It is therefore important that consumers are not misled and are given the opportunity to buy local product, which they very clearly indicated they wanted.”

The UFU will be contacting retailers to highlight these concerns and will continue to monitor the situation.

Notes to Editors
•    Full results from the UFU Lamb survey can be accessed by contacting Gill Gallagher on 02890 370 222.
•    EBLEX results - Source NFU 
•    Link to Farmers Guardian piece - http://www.farmersguardian.com/tesco-backtracks-on-claims-uk-lamb-is-out-of-season/59104.article