A processor code of practice for the sheep sector is on the cards as farmer frustration continues to grow over supply chain transparency.
At a meeting of the UK’s major farming unions in Brussels last week coinciding with Monday’s protests organised by COPA, industy chiefs discussed a code of practice similar to that introduced in the beef industry.
It would give several requirements including 12 weeks’ notice of any changes to processor terms and conditions, a standardised dressing specification and an end to rounding down of weights to the nearest half kilo.
The processor code would also improve deadweight price reporting in a bid to increase transparency.
NFU livestock chairman Charles Sercombe said: "With very limited guidance available it is difficult for farmers to make informed decisions.
"Sheep carcase classification in the UK remains voluntary and it is still commonplace for many abattoirs, especially the smaller ones, to pay based on weight."
He added a 2013 EU Commission report found only four processors in England and Wales were actively participating in price reporting. The UK’s unions have been asked to discuss the implementation of a voluntary code by Defra.
The agreement came in a week recovery in liveweight lamb prices was stunted again, as the average price at GB marts fell 2p/kg to 152.9p/kg.
AHDB said better prices in recent weeks had encouraged producers to bring more lambs forward, which contributed to the falls last week.
Concerns are also increasing in the UK sheep meat sector about New Zealand imports. This was another focus of discussion at the unions’ meeting and NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe toldFarmers Guardian this week he had written to the EU Commission to arrange a meeting about New Zealand’s sheep meat import quota to the region.
John Royle, NFU chief livestock adviser said: “NZ have a fixed EU quota of 228,000 tonnes. We believe that the move from frozen to fresh, and from carcases to bone in cuts represents a substantive change in the trade since the original agreement in the 1980’s and this change is having an effect on the UK and EU sheep market."
The prospect of a processor code was welcomed by National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker. He suggested there needed to be clearer labelling to allow consumers to differentiate between imported and domestic produce.