Bird flu boost to lamb backfires on UK sheep farmers
Sheep farmers’ profit was poultry growers’ loss as their products took a big hit all round.
Bird flu (H5N1) outbreaks around the world have depressed poultry sales, providing unexpected and often sudden boosts to sales of other meat products. A 30 per cent fall in turkey sales following the H5N1 outbreak in Suffolk was not unexpected, but one infected whooper swan washed up on the beach at Cellardyke in eastern Scotland in 2006 is having some ironic repercussions on Scottish sheep farmers a year later.
Following identification of a H5N1 infected whooper swan on the slipway at Cellardyke in Scotland spring lamb prices ‘went through the roof’. Prices soared by £0.50/kg to over £3.00/kg almost overnight but Sheep farmers’ profit was poultry growers’ loss as their products took a big hit all round.
Sheep farmers looking for another good year in 2007 were disappointed. UK supermarkets in their traditionally unassailable position did not want to be caught out again and secured forward contracts with New Zealand lamb suppliers. Net result is depressed trading with many ‘finishers’ who bought store lambs at the big autumn sales now finding they are well out of pocket, and unable to do much more than cover initial purchase cost of the animals. Returns on new season lambs are around £10 per head lower than one year ago.
This is of little comfort to UK’s hard pressed poultry producers still dealing with the aftershocks of the Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak. And now a H7N2 outbreak in North Wales which though low path is infecting people at a rate never seen before.