VFF to fight proposed lamb definition change

Terry Sim, March 28, 2018

VFF Livestock president Leonard Vallance

VICTORIA’S peak sheep producer body will fight the proposed change to the definition of Australian lamb that was endorsed last week by Sheep Producers Australia.

Sheep Producers Australia last week endorsed the new definition as ‘young sheep under 12 months of age or which do not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear’, consistent with the New Zealand Lamb and Mutton Carcass Classification.

The current Australian definition for lamb is: ‘Meat derived from a female, castrated male, or entire male ovine animal that shows no evidence of eruption of permanent incisor teeth.’

SPA has estimated the proposed lamb definition change will not be implemented until spring next year. However, Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock president, Leonard Vallance, said the development and implementation of chain speed objective carcass measurement technologies in abattoirs should be completed prior to any change of lamb definition.

“We need this technology in place to underpin our world class product; we’re concerned about the integrity of the lamb brand”.

The VFF believe that OCM technology will enhance and underpin eating quality, improve livestock management and processing efficiency and add value to the entire supply chain and that this implementation be a priority for industry.

“If industry is to move forward to a cuts-based value system for lamb we must have the technology in place to measure intramuscular fat of a whole lamb carcass at chain speed.

“When cuts-based marketing is implemented the definition of lamb becomes less significant but until then it remains important to ensure integrity of the product,” Mr Vallance said.

Despite SPA’s consultant Holmes Sackett claiming 83 percent of 509 survey respondents and 22 direct submissions supported the change in definition, the VFF said today most Victorian respondents to the online survey including, farmers, agents and saleyard operators, advocated against the change.

The Holmes Sackett report and the VFF said a major domestic retail customer is also against the change.

Lamb definition debate far from over

Mr Vallance said the debate over Australia’s lamb definition is “a long way from over.”

“We’re not giving this away.”

Mr Vallance said the reality is very few sheep producers will benefit from the proposed change.

“It’s for the processors to have an advantage in the export market, whether or not those returns will flow back to the farm gate remains to be seen.

“We need a guarantee that OCM technology will be implemented.”

The Victorian sheep industry, the VFF and NSW Farmers Association and a major domestic customer were ignored, we only hope Sheep Producers Australia hasn’t thrown away our only bargaining chip,” Mr Vallance said.

“What leverage as producers do we now have to bring in OCM? None, and that was in our submission.”

Mr Vallance said industry-wide implementation of OCM could take 5-10 years, “but probably never now.”

He said research on lamb eating quality and grading is not yet completed.

“It’s the cart before the horse – by about four years.”

The VFF said with a change of definition, the importance of harmonising the compliance schemes that underpins the lamb brand nationally becomes essential due of the subjective nature of the definition. The federation encouraged Sheep Producers Australia to work with state and national stakeholders and regulators to achieve “this important milestone.”

Mr Vallance said the VFF had serious questions about the new SPA model.

“Does it take notice of Merino breeders or prime lamb breeders?

He believed great emphasis had been put on the opinion of processors.

“We’re trying to get a better deal for us, not for the processors.”

The VFF Livestock leader questioned the relevance of basing SPA’s position on the strength of an online survey, while Victorian farmers were relying on the VFF to represent their views.

“They are putting value in something that is not really accepted across the industry yet.”

Mr Vallance is concerned that a small percentage of Australia’s prime lamb producers completed the survey and major lamb producing states like Victoria and New South Wales were under-represented.

SPA had effectively changed policy on a national issue on the opinions of about 400 farmers, he said.

“Is that democracy at work or not?

“Does 83 percent of 509 survey respondents represent the lamb industry?”

All lamb producers had an opportunity

Producer respondents to the lamb definition survey were dominated by Western Australia (206), followed by South Australia (77), New South Wales (66), Victoria (36), Tasmania (9), Queensland (8), with 26 not specifying which state they came from.

However, SPA president Allan Piggott said all Australian producers had an opportunity to complete the survey and the nine-week consultation process was “extremely comprehensive.” He would not disclose the identity of the domestic retailer that opposed the lamb definition change.

“509 respondents is quite a lot and 83 percent is quite an endorsement for the change.

“All states had contributions.”

Mr Piggott said SPA supported objective carcase measurement, but he did not believe the lamb definition change should be deferred until OCM technology implementation occurred across the industry.

“I don’t think we can afford to do that and the dentition is such a small change and it is part of a much broader issue about the language around the industry.”

He expected SPA would continue to survey producers online, but paper forms were available from the SPA office.

Opportunity to market younger lamb will be missed

Western Victorian specialist prime lamb producer Georgina Gubbins opposes the proposed definition change and said 509 respondents is insufficient on which to base a national policy change.

She said the lamb definition consultation process had exposed significant “self-interest” by processors and wool growers who are opportunistic lamb producers.

“I’m just really disappointed that they are not looking at the industry as a whole and what’s best for the industry.

“I think we have also missed a marketing opportunity against New Zealand by having younger lamb.”


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  1. Marie O'Dea, April 6, 2018

    We are prime lamb producers in WA, using a NZ composite breed. We completed the survey. Our turn-off in the last six years has gone to domestic processors, air-freight export, live export wethers, as stores to grain growers to finish on stubbles and ewe lambs for flock expansion. Our production and marketing decisions are to ensure the sustainability of our pastures and maximise ewe fertility which usually means getting shot of lambs ASAP. Flexibility for our store buyers is why we supported the change and why give the Kiwis any advantage.

  2. Tom Casey, March 29, 2018

    36 members left.

  3. Geoff Bilney, March 29, 2018

    Only 36 businesses in the whole of Victoria thought enough of this issue to fill out a survey form.
    SPA have done what I believe is their charter and that is to make decisions for the best of the industry as a whole without fear or favour.
    36 respondents is hardly a mandate to complain about the decision Mr Vallance.
    36, that’s all, the rest it could be said don’t care.

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