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Consumers cut lamb from menu as price rockets

By DANE KEENES
SHOPPERS are shunning lamb as the price of the meat soars, according to Canberra butchers, The price of a whole lamb has risen in the Canberra region by 64.5 per cent in the past two years, from about $4 a kilo to $6.20 a kilogram, Australian Bureau of Statistic figures show.

Canberra butchers have been forced to raise the prices of their lamb products, with items such as cutlets experiencing a sharp increase from $36.99 a kilo to $44.99 a kilo in six months.

Belconnen’s More than Meats owner David Morton says with dwindling lamb stock, there are no signs of this trend slowing down.

“The drought has affected numbers enormously and I wouldn’t be surprised if the price hit $7 a kilo very soon,” Mr Morton said.

Figures published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in January- revealed that lamb production had fallen for the fifth consecutive month, down to 33,000 tonnes.

The ABS also announced in 2008 that lamb numbers were at their lowest levels since the 1920s, at 79 million head.

“That figure would be even lower now and 79 million wasn’t enough then… ideally it should be at 1.3 billion head,” Mr Morton said.

With many consumers facing tough economic times, Mr Morton said lamb sales were beginning to fall as cash-strapped customers looked for cheaper alternatives.

“Many of our customers have definitely backed off… we are selling half the amount of lamb we usually do, while beef has seen a small increase.”

Melba IGA duty manager Dylan Hunt said the store had also began to feel the impact of the price rises, with many customers turning their backs on lamb.

“There are a lot of our customers who would usually purchase lamb, but are now choosing cheaper cuts of beef,” Mr Hunt said.

“I think we are going to find that families using lamb for dinner on a frequent basis will become a thing of the past.”

Local abattoirs are also suffering, with Young’s Meatworks closing a month ago and Goulburn’s Southern Meats scaling back on production and staff.

Mr Morton said the Meatworks closure wasn’t a surprise, despite a healthy lamb export market, because there isn’t enough stock to meet demand.

“We are going to see a lot more closures around the area… no doubt many are struggling,” Mr Morton said.

“The export market is good, but a lot of abattoirs don’t have the stock to fill the demand and the high Australian dollar is crippling profits.”

Meat and Livestock Australia reported a four per cent increase in lamb production and a seven per cent decrease in the national sheep flock in 2009.

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