The proposed change, which is to allow the eruption of up to two permanent incisor teeth, is described as having the potential to bring significant benefits to sheep producers, processors and customers.
The new definition, which is the same as in New Zealand and outlined in its Lamb and Mutton Carcass Classification, is “young sheep under 12 months of age or which do not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear”.
The decision was based on the majority of feedback provided to the SPA during a nine-week public consultation phase, during which 83% of respondents to an industry survey supported the change.
“The new definition will even the playing field against New Zealand in our export markets and provide producers with an indicator before they incur the ‘price cliff face’ of lamb being downgraded to hogget or mutton,” said SPA president Allan Piggott. “The current definition means that as soon as eruption is evident, the animal becomes classed as mutton, and results in a lower price.
“Market access risk from adopting the New Zealand lamb definition was proven to be minimal. The interim report’s findings have been further verified by MLA’s international business managers, various Australian exporters and international importers.
“Upon advice from MLA’s consumer markets insight unit, as there is no anticipated change to eating quality of the product, the likelihood of a determinental effect on consumer preference is low.”
According to the AMIC, Australian lamb production has “evolved significantly in the past 20 to 30 years, with significant advances in general husbandry, breeding, nutrition, animal welfare, processing techniques, ageing of product and refrigeration technology”.
“This has allowed the Australian red meat industry to produce higher-quality lamb more consistently across seasons and from year to year. Despite this, the definition used to describe ‘what a lamb is’ has not changed since at least the mid-1900s, resulting in high-quality sheep meat being forced to be ‘down-graded’ from lamb to hogget or mutton. This can result in a significant drop in the willingness of the consumer to purchase – despite no discernible difference in quality or taste – which flows back to lower returns for the processor, and a lower price offered to the farmer.”
The AMIC said it was looking forward to working with SPA on the implementation process of the proposed change to the lamb definition, and to bringing the benefits of this change to lamb producers, processors and consumers.