The Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) is set to ignite spirited debate with a proposal to extend the stage at which a young sheep is defined as a lamb.
It has asked producers and other meat supply chain members for comment on a proposal to change the definition of a lamb from a young sheep under 12 months of age that does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear to “allowing the eruption of permanent incisors but without either incisor being in wear.”
The SCA said the proposal aimed to address the “price cliff” that occurred when a young sheep was classed as lower-priced mutton.
Western Victorian lamb producer and SCA director Mick Craig said the consultation would help the sheep industry “all be on the same page about the lamb definition to guarantee that we can move to a fit for purpose sheep meat and livestock language.”
“The lamb definition discussion is one component of the work that Sheepmeat Council is considering as part of a broader review of the sheepmeat language, but it’s a critical point that’s affecting some producers.
“Having the right language across all production systems through to the trade and consumer environment is crucial to ensuring producers get paid for the attributes that consumers value most,” he said.
“Industry’s got the potential to improve profitability over the next couple of decades with ongoing investment into objective carcase measurement and securing greater access to premium global markets,” Mr Craig said.
Byaduk lamb producer Tony Fleetwood said he did not believe the definition should be changed.
Mr Fleetwood said the current definition was “black and white” and the proposed change would increase the risk of “corruption” of the definition.
“There is area for uncertainty,” he said.
The proposal would increase the age when sheep were classed as lambs, Mr Fleetwood said.
Hotspur lamb producer Philip Gough had similar concerns about the proposal, saying the proposed definition’s allowance for incisor teeth with no signs of wear would be subjective.
“Who decides whether they are in wear,” Mr Gough said.
SCA marketing committee chair John Wallace urged all producers and other supply chain operators to read the consultation paper and complete a short online survey or provide a submission.
The consultation paper and a link to the online survey are on the SCA website www.sheepmeatcouncil.com.au/lamb-definition The consultation period will run until November 29.