The row stemmed from comments earlier this week from ICSA sheep chairman John Brooks that criticised the price of lamb in retail outlets.
In a statement attacking retailer Tesco, he said: “Tesco is currently selling leg of spring lamb at a ridiculously low price of €8.69/kg. This can only be described as below cost selling. This will have the effect of putting farmers out of business. ICSA is calling for this practice to stop immediately. Farmers need at least €7/kg for high cost early spring lamb systems and allowing for processing costs, it is clear that a retail price of €8.69/kg is unsustainable. Meanwhile, retailers seem to have no problem getting €33/kg for farmed salmon.
“Spring lamb has to be marketed as a premium product. This puts it way below the cost of most steak cuts and much closer to mince price.”
He added that retailers such as Tesco need to understand that early lamb production is a complex and high cost system.
“Spring lamb producers excelled as usual,” said Brooks. “They carefully planned lambing dates /sale dates, cared for their flock pre and post lambing at a time of year when you have long winter nights and feed costs are at a maximum in order to have a premium product ready for Easter and early summer.
“It’s now the time of year when early spring lamb producers are calculating their losses from their enterprise. After all this work the industry cheats us by paying a bad price and introducing spurious weight limits. Early spring lamb producers need a minimum of €7/kg and a realistic weight limit of 22kgs in order to leave farmers with a small profit margin.”
In response to these accusations MII director Cormac Healy said: “The sheepmeat processing industry and all those involved in it have and will continue to work hard to secure the best markets for Irish lamb and return the highest possible price to its farmer suppliers. The comments by Mr Brooks are disingenuous, completely lacking in substance and seek only to impugn the integrity of lamb processors.
“Processors are acutely aware of the higher costs associated with Spring lamb and also the role they play in the yearly supply cycle. Current spring lamb price is ahead of this time last year and is reflecting the returns achievable across the full range of markets.”