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The battle has started for the future of lamb


Lamb is favoured by shoppers of 45 and older

THERE was a question on the lips of many sheep farmers at last weekend's Teagasc Sheep2015 event in Athenry. It's something that some have clearly been mulling over for a while.

Exactly who is buying the leg of lamb for the dinner table these days?

Bord Bia's figures highlight that over 80pc of lamb sales in the country are picked up by shoppers aged 45-years and older.

David Keane, a young beef and lamb farmer from Newport, Co Mayo, who recently travelled to France to learn about the sheep trade, put it simply.

"I myself wouldn't eat lamb if I'm being honest about it," said the young pedigree Texel breeder whose family also runs their own butcher shop.

"A lot of younger people aren't eating lamb so the price of lamb will go down in the long term and we're going to have to find markets elsewhere for the Irish lamb."

Sean O'Connor, who breeds the Islandmore Suffolk Flock in Killarney, Co Kerry, also passionately feels more needs to be done to promote lamb.

"I've always said that if I ever meet anyone from McDonald's I'm going to try and get lamb on the menu in some form.

"It was a good help to the beef sector and if you can get more younger people eating it, kebabs and all these things, that they eat regularly.

"Young people aren't going home cooking legs of lamb they're getting things they can grab and go."

The challenge is immense with domestic consumption of sheep meat in Ireland falling dramatically over the last few decades.

In 1997, there was 8.4kg sold per person. However, the latest figures show that total sheep meat consumption is or 3.5kg per person.

In 2014, exports increased to €218m, with total sheep meat sales valued at €270m.

In recent days, Bord Bia's North American office, pointed out the recent removal of the restrictions for Irish beef should pave the way for Irish lamb to eventually make it's way onto US menus.

Demand has also been growing in emerging markets.

As the debate continued outdoors, a Bord Bia stand at Sheep2015 reflected the latest attempts to rejuvenate the lamb market.

Chefs were busy showing that lamb can be a swift and versatile dish, with inexpensive cuts just taking that little bit longer to cook.

There is a €7.7m campaign underway in conjunction with the EU to promote lamb as a modern meat for a younger audience.

It is targeting those aged from 25 to 45-years across six countries including Ireland, the UK, France, Belgium, Germany and Denmark.

It's aiming to make people add cuts of lamb to their shopping daily, rather than keeping it for occasions.

We'll have to wait and see if the multi-million euro drive to get lamb in younger shoppers' baskets sets the tills jingling.

Indo Farming