Globetrotting researcher eyes future of Aussie sheep meat

December 4, 2012

A Murdoch University Research Fellow has travelled around the world studying sheep meat production and consumption.

Dr Kelly Manton-Pearce of the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences has visited countries in the EU, USA, UK, Middle East and China as part of her Nuffield scholarship and has returned with insights into Aussie sheep meat’s standing in the world market.

While the Middle East showed strong and growing demand, she encountered barriers to trade in several markets, including China, India and the EU.

“China’s tariff on Australian lamb is 15 per cent for bone-in product compared to 6.7 per cent for New Zealand – which is going down to zero by 2015 due to the NZ-China free trade agreement,” Dr Manton-Pearce said.

“We’ve also got barriers to trade in India due to a high tariff and a phyto-sanitary barrier that needs review. This is a country that has a segment of 300 million people who primarily eat sheep meat and goat.”

As for the EU, she said protectionism led by the French Farmers Union was limiting exports into the EU, which currently caps Australia’s bone-in import quota at 18,000 tonnes per annum, an easily met amount that doesn’t meet demand.

Dr Manton-Pearce’s journey also produced interesting cultural insights, including China’s preference for manufacturing cuts and offal rather than prime cuts.

“In China, lamb and sheep meat are a ‘taboo’ product thought to promote warming of the body, so consumption is recommended by Chinese doctors in winter and autumn only, when the most common lamb meal is the hotpot – basically a big lamb soup that uses the low value breast and flap cuts.”

She was encouraged by marketing initiatives in the UK, which were aimed at increasing consumption by younger people and transforming lamb’s image from a Sunday roast option to an adaptable any-night meal.

Overall, Dr Manton-Pearce found a high regard for Australian lamb everywhere.

“Australia is leading the world in lamb eating quality assurance, and importers are aware that Murdoch University is moving the product in the right direction with its research into breeding values for tenderness, intramuscular fat and lean meat yield.

“Sheepmeat production has a great future. We simply need producers and politicians to continue to make informed decisions based on an understanding of our markets.”

Dr Manton-Pearce took part in Murdoch University’s delegation to the 2012 Yangling International Agri-Science Forum in China in November along with Dr Graham O’Hara, Dr Wayne Reeve and Dr Jingjuan Zhang.

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