Cherries, asparagus and other home-produced foods are equally lauded when they come into season, so why not lamb, asks the National Sheep Association?

“Most sheep in the UK lamb over a four-month period in the spring and many come to the market between July and December – this is our seasonal harvest where availability and quality come together,” explains Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive.

“The British weather, our range of land types and diversity of farms allow our supply of high quality lambs to run throughout the year – but the fact is that the peak of production is during the autumn and early winter months and the trough runs from late winter to late Spring. This is why New Zealand lamb has for many, many years complemented our market. They lamb at the opposite time of the year to us and their peak should, in theory, complement our trough.

“But as with strawberries and other foods, new techniques are used to extend seasons. We are therefore seeing New Zealand lamb appear on our shelves throughout the year and sadly, for profit reasons alone, some of our main retailers are choosing to sell products they can make a bigger margin on. Once one big retailer does this the others follow like sheep. It is very disappointing to see this lack of interest in quality and such a short-sighted approach to supply chains.

“The inaccurate information given to consumers is also appalling, including customers being told they cannot source British lamb at this time of year. With the quantity of UK lamb available, the quality at this time of year and new lamb cuts that suit modern recipes, there is little excuse for not seeking out British lamb and celebrating the quality of what has been an almost perfect harvest this year.”

Mr Stocker has just returned from a trip to China and seen for himself just one example of a growing demand for red meat.

Global population growth and climate change will affect buyers and sellers in every nation, including the UK. NSA warns supermarkets to think more about their supply chains and support their domestic market for quality lamb.

Mr Stocker explains: “China’s population is growing fast, and so is their consumption of lamb. From importing virtually no lamb five years ago, they have quickly become the world’s largest importer of lamb. Their population continues to grow and the scale of movement from a rural (production) to urban (consumption) society is something that has never been seen in human history. If we want to ensure UK consumers retain confidence in our retail structure then our retailers should do more to establish dedicated and committed supply from our farmers. This really could be a matter of ‘use it or lose it’.”