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Love affair with lamb still strong

REBECCA TURNERCountryman

At its current high price, the eating quality of lamb needs to be exceptional, according to Meat Standards Australia (MSA).

To ensure this is the case, the organisation has urged producers to join the MSA-Lamb program.

Murdoch University's David Pethick said producers should consider getting on board.

Dr Pethick spoke last week at the Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) Making More From Sheep forum and said the UK's biggest supermarket chains and one of Australia's biggest supermarkets were already interested in using MSA-Lamb to differentiate their lamb brands.

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Dr Pethick said he saw the national progression of MSA-Lamb as evolving to using selected sires to differentiate and underpin elite lamb brands.

In what he called 'MSA- Lamb Mark II', Dr Pethick said certain sires were already proving to have a high heritability for key eating quality traits such as intramuscular fat and shear force tenderness.

"Research from the Sheep CRC is showing us sire's have moderate to high heritability when it comes to their offspring's intramuscular fat and shear force tenderness," Dr Pethick said.

"This variation in eating quality between sires is bigger than any science applied in abattoirs that I have seen."

Dr Pethick said the difference was big enough that consumers could detect it both with their taste buds and their wallets, with research showing consumers would pay more for lamb which has a guaranteed higher eating quality.

He said MSA had "done a hell of a good job" with MSA-Beef and said most people within the industry had taken on the science and industry practices to ensure beef's eating quality.

"Up until now lamb has been very difficult to differentiate," he said.

"I see MSA-Lamb Mark II being driven by sire team averages, providing processors and supermarkets with a way to differentiate their lamb brands."

Dr Pethick said in WA processors Hillside Meats and Dardanup Butchering Company were already producing MSA-Lamb with Goodchild Abattoirs and V&V Walsh also wanting to come on board but were being held back by low producer registrations.

"There is not enough MSA-registered lamb producers in WA," Dr Pethick said.

"I urge you to register for MSA-Lamb, all you have to do is fill out a form or go online, it's free."

Dr Pethick said the success of holding demand for lamb and increasing its price was amazing.

"The domestic market for lamb has not shifted although the price for lamb has doubled in 10 years, export demand is also holding despite recession," Dr Pethick said.

"More so than ever we must focus on the consumer.

"We can't make the same mistake the wool industry has, they nearly buggered it but it is coming back around now."

Dr Pethick said Australians loved the flavour of lamb, however, when it came to consumer association beef won with both tenderness and nutrition.

He said this was something the industry needed to improve on; with the most common consumer association when it came to lamb was its expensive price.

"We need to focus on what the consumer wants," Dr Pethick said.

"This means improving lean meat yield genetics in our flocks using sheep breeding values such as carcase weight, eye muscle depth, fat content; it's all there ready for us to use.

"You need to be thinking about the consumer before you put those rams in."

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