Lamb had previously been considered to have grown into the less lucrative ‘hogget’ or mutton as soon as incisor teeth were visible, but in New Zealand, lambs were still considered lamb after two teeth had popped through. It had long been felt by the Australian sheep industry that this created an unfair advantage for New Zealand producers.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud announced the changes to the definitions. "Lamb will continue to be called lamb when the animal has two permanent incisor teeth, so long as those teeth are new and have not begun to wear," he explained. “Our export definition will now match New Zealand's and our own new AUS-MEAT definition.
“After decades of discussion, the time for talk was over. This is a simple common-sense change. This will mean our growers can sell more lambs towards the end of the growing season and expand their lamb export opportunities. It will be easy for growers to see when a lamb becomes a sheep – when there is visible wear on the incisors.”
This attempt to change the Australian definition was first announced in March after extensive consultation with producers and other industry stakeholders.
The action has been welcomed by Sheep Producers Australia. Independent chair Chris Mirams said: “The change will allow producers to continue to deliver the quality and consistency in lamb that our customers know and love. It enables producers to be able to finish lambs throughout the year with confidence.
“The change was never going to be as simple as announcing it and it taking effect. There are a number of steps, including changing legislation, which need to occur.
“With the Minister’s announcement that the Government will support the industry’s decision with a quick response to change, we anticipate the new definition should be in place in mid-2019. The new definition will even the playing field with 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.”