Supermarket chain to sell hill farm lamb

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The Independent Online

Supermarket chain Asda today announced a £3 million package to sell hill farm lamb, as farmers' leaders met to discuss how to ease the plight of struggling sheep farmers.

In a move set to provide a massive boost to the country's beleaguered sheep industry, badly hit by the foot­and­mouth crisis, Asda will start selling the so­called "light" lamb from next Monday.

This comes after reports that farms minister Lord Whitty was to tell the National Farmers' Union conference at Warwick University that 1.5 million healthy lambs would be slaughtered because they could not be exported.

As Britain remains in the grip of the crippling disease, the lambs cannot be sold abroad or moved to fresh pastures because of strict movement restrictions still in place.

Lord Whitty has reportedly said this leaves the Government with no alternative but to slaughter them and compensate farmers.

The industry is facing problems including a surplus of lambs caused by the foot­and­mouth export ban, the knock­on costs of keeping those animals, and a drop in market value for the sheep.

Delegates at the conference were expected to look at ways of getting a better price for lamb and mutton and how the issue of movement restrictions can be overcome without damaging disease control.

A strategy for lifting the export ban on British meat was also to be discussed.

But Asda said its move to sell "light" lambs in all of its 246 stores came after appeals from the farming community and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The lamb specification has been changed by the chain so it can take a wider range of lamb sizes and help farmers hit by the export freezes.

The smaller lambs, usually earmarked for the export market, mean there is a surplus of about 1.5 million hill lambs.

Farmers supplying Asda will now have orders that will quickly clear their backlog, a spokesman said.

"Foot­and­mouth disease has held British agriculture hostage for the last five months," Peter Pritchard, director of meat and produce for Asda said.

"We believe that, like us, our customers want to show their support for farmers and will buy the hill lamb ­ we've even given them an extra incentive by dropping the price by twenty pence per kilo.

"We hope that this will go some way to help the struggling agriculture industry on which we rely for supply of top quality meat."

Currently Asda's British hill lamb pack, previously sourced from non­hill farm flocks, costs £9.99 for 2.7 kilos, and will be available in all 246 Asda stores from Monday August 6 at £6.99 for two kilos.