Yu Zhangli, vice-president of the Jiangsu Yurun Meat Industry Group, told delegates to the World Meat Congress in Beijing, that demand for mutton was rising in the domestic market, with more and more consumers switching into it from pork.
However, he said the cost of raising sheep in China was "higher than the global average, even in Mongolia, where we have 80% of the country’s grassland, the cost is double that of Australia". Production was fragmented and low, and he said his company was operating around 30% under capacity.
Despite those costs, demand continues to rise, as have prices, and those high prices were attracting a criminal element looking to benefit from the price and profit margins available, he said, adding that everything from dogs and rats were being passed off as mutton.
He said there was no single solution to the problem, and while the opportunity to bring in more imported sheep meat was an option, it would not address the problem. "It’s necessary to import to supplement the domestic product, but it’s not the best way to rely on foreign trade.
"We need to improve our breeding and improve our quality. We need to treat sheep as a rare resource and use science and technology to promote breeding and improve the quality of the animals."
He said his company was working with the Inner Mongolia University and Australian companies to create a research unit, but he said they also needed the Chinese government to provide incentives for the industry. "The healthy development of the industry is not possible with government support."