THE cutting of its first permanent tooth has determined the value of lamb for decades, but a review of the lamb classification could see this change.
Peak sheep and meat processor councils are debating changes to the AUS-MEAT language which currently defines a lamb up to 12 months of age with no erupted permanent incisor teeth.
Producers and processors have long debated the restriction in the definition which has been argued to have caused a substantial amount of Australia’s flock to be sold prematurely at sub-standard weights, in a bid to avoid discounting associated with older sheep.
The changes to the language could see Australia adopt New Zealand’s system, which refers to lamb under 12 months old and allows two teeth before downgrading the lamb to hogget.
Meat and Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton said the move would enable major marketing opportunities for yearling lamb.
“(Some) Merino lambs coming into a feedlot after having a hard time, start having an extra increase in nutrition and break their two teeth, suddenly being worth half the value they had when they’d only had milk teeth,” Mr Norton said.
“This is a marketing and branding opportunity to increase the value of two-tooth lambs. Will it be the same value as lamb? The market will decide.”
The issue was discussed at an industry meeting between the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s (SCA) and the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) on Tuesday in Dubbo, NSW.
The lamb specification language review is part of Sheepmeat Industry Strategic Plan 2020 and Meat Industry Strategic Plan 2020.
SCA commissioned Holmes Sackett to review the current definition of lamb and the potential implication of adopting NZ’s system.
The options include pursuing NZ’s definition of a sheep less than 12 months of age, or which does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear, or an extended definition of two teeth not in wear.
The report identified a substantial degree of risk moving to a definition beyond what is currently used in NZ.
“This is getting to the final, pointy end of the discussions,” Mr Norton said.
“We don’t want to diminish the lamb brand in Australia, globally and domestically, by introducing the yearling lamb … but yearling lamb can pave future value.”
He said sensory testing had proven yearling lamb loin cuts were similar in consumer’s eating quality perception to young lamb.
SCA chief executive Kat Giles said the review aimed to enhance animal health, carcase measurement and grid compliance.