Domestic Lamb

Retailer and processor body supports lamb definition consultation

Terry Sim, October 5, 2017

CONSULTATION on the changing of Australia’s lamb definition has been supported by domestic retailers and processors.

The Australian Meat Industry Council said it welcomed and endorsed the public consultation on potential changes to the lamb definition by the Sheepmeat Council of Australia.

AMIC said it had been working with the SCA on this issue for a number of years, with significant progress made in the past 12 months, as both councils recognise the potential benefits to both producers and processors.

AMIC is the peak council that represents retailers, processors and smallgoods manufacturers and its website says is the only industry association representing the post-farm-gate Australian meat industry.

Moves to formally change Australia’s lamb definition could start early next year, after the Sheepmeat Council of Australia yesterday launched a public consultation period on the issue.

The SCA’s eight-week national public consultation period on the definition of lamb, among producers and meat supply chain members, will end on November 29. After submissions and the results of an online survey are considered, the body set to supersede the SCA, Sheep Producers Australia, will evaluate a final report and determine an industry policy position in February next year, and release its final report in March.

Australia’s AUS-MEAT language currently defines lamb as a female, castrated or entire male up to 12 months of age with no erupted permanent incisor teeth, whereas New Zealand defines lamb as a sheep under 12 months of age or which does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear.

The proposed definition change would mean the eruption of permanent incisors is a sign to producers that they must sell their stock in short time to ensure they remain in the more valuable lamb category, AMIC said.

AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said it is essential that any changes to the red meat industry language and standards result in positive outcomes for the industry.

“The proposed change addresses the sharp reduction in price able to be offered by processors to producers for mutton compared with lamb, a key point identified by the SCA.”

AMIC said the integrity of the lamb category must be assured under any change in the definition, and the views of the various jurisdictional regulators will be sought in the consultation process.

Mr Hutchinson said research has shown there is no noticeable difference product eating quality between the time immediately prior to permanent incisor eruption and immediately afterwards.

“All sectors of the supply chain must be satisfied that any change in the lamb definition is positive, and this SCA consultation process will help ensure that,” he said.

The consultation discussion paper, background information and a link to the online survey are available on the SCA website

Click here to read the SCA Lamb Language Public Consultation paper.

Click here to read the Holmes Sackett interim report on the implications in changing the lamb definition.

Click here to do the online survey.

Sources: AMIC, SCA.


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  1. James Jackson, October 7, 2017

    A couple of points to help inform this debate. I applaud the Sheepmeat Council of Australia for having a consultation process over the lamb definition, but I would have preferred a SWOT type approach to the arguments that came out with the proposal. Some of the principal reasons that this is contentious are as follows:
    1) The value of lamb has been underpinned by the significant marketing investment of lamb producers under the current definition. These producers essentially own the brand. The product has considerable credibility in the market place and compromising the image of the product by changing the definition to accommodate some older product may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Do we have sufficient research to make us confident the change is not going to even out the price cliff by devaluing lamb? I would say no.
    2) Is this going to increase the price cliff between new season lamb and old season lamb? Is this change going to transfer the price cliff to a different point of the age profile? Grids are starting to recognise new and old lamb. What are new and old lamb defined as?
    3) A considerable part of the ‘change argument’ is based around harmonising with the New Zealand definition. Although their lamb definition is ‘A sheep less than 12 months of age or which does not have any permanent incisors in wear’, their production environment means there are few carry-over lambs and most of their product is killed at a lighter weight and younger age than Australia. So their production environment will stop a lot of older product entering their markets under the lamb definition. New Zealand also predominantly has breeds that break teeth younger than Merinos.
    4) The eating quality research that apparently underpins this decision does not answer the question as to whether this change is going to change the eating quality of the product. It is interesting that this decision is going to be taken before the research into eating quality differences between sucker lambs and yearling lamb is completed. I wonder why? The proponents of this change argue this change will increase the confidence of holding lambs longer to attain bigger weights. This would mean the age profile of the lamb category would probably increase, so the research into age-related eating quality differences would be critical to informing this debate. My advice is to finish the research so industry can make an informed decision.
    5) Will this decision delay or complicate the uptake of a cuts-based system of quality assessment? We know that long muscles retain eating quality and for longer than legs. Dentition is a blunt instrument for quality assessment. The red meat industry is in the dark ages — though improving with MSA — with respect to objective measurement of product and value-based marketing. The wool industry has been objectively measuring its value proposition for decades and producers have been responding to rational market signals. It is ridiculous that hide colour in beef and dentition are still key value definers in the red meat industry.
    6) I would suggest that defining the point at which the teeth are ‘in wear’ is more difficult to assess and audit than eruption.
    7) Carry over lambs compromise the ability of an enterprise to efficiently use the feed curve. Heavier weights have resulted in enterprises compromising next year’s lamb crop to feed them. Will this definition change the amount of product that is grain-finished and compromise the category’s grass-fed provenance? We know some of our markets pay a premium for the range-fed provenance of our product. I don’t think the debate has teased out all the implications of this change.
    8) The implications for transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or TSE export protocols are at best ambiguous. I would like to see that clarified.
    I would encourage producers to participate in the consultation process. Like most things in life there are genuine and compelling arguments for both options in this debate.

  2. Simon Wells, October 5, 2017

    What took SCA so long? For this is but pure common sense; for a lamb not yet using its permanent incisor teeth to be still classed a lamb.

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