3 good reasons to buy British lamb – so why ship it from New Zealand?


I can’t imagine Easter without a slow-roast leg of lamb. As crucial as a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. The tradition comes from the Old Testament, but this year there is a more contemporary reason to buy lamb: British sheep farmers need our support. After a season of terrible prices, they are now trudging through a second winter, in the middle of lambing. On Tuesday a Cumbria farmer told BBC Radio 4 of having to dig pregnant ewes out of snow drifts and of many new-born lambs dying from hypothermia. “Buy our lamb to help us through this,” Alistair Mackintosh pleaded.

So I went shopping. But there was no British lamb at all in the Co-op, only the stuff that’s shipped frozen from New Zealand. At Waitrose – a shop that loves to boast of its “commitment to British farmers” – there were a few bits of Welsh lamb (I live in Scotland) on the meat counter but the fridge was filled with Kiwi sheep, too.

Waitrose’s rack of New Zealand lamb – the luscious section of upper ribs and fillet – was priced at an amazing £30.99 a kilo – £10 more than the Welsh. British sheepfarmers were recently getting not much more than that for the whole animal. For the shops, the best thing about lamb at Easter and Passover is the fact that you can make so much money from it.

At my local butcher in Edinburgh, Bower’s, manager Mark Smith said darkly that the supermarkets ship in Kiwi lamb just because there’s more profit in it. At wholesale he’d found New Zealand lamb £2.50 to £5 a kilo cheaper than British – but that price difference doesn’t get handed to the customer. The National Farmers’ Union backs this accusation. In February, it says, NZ lamb was selling at 23 per cent less than a year ago, while the price in the shops was only down 12 per cent.

This week legs of NZ and British lamb are the same price at Waitrose – £12.99 a kilo. With profits like that to be made, it’s hardly surprising that over this winter the supermarkets have bought in more New Zealand lamb than at any time this decade.

Waitrose’s spokesman told me that they stocked NZ lamb as well as British because of a “best in-season” policy. The shop wants to provide lamb that has been fattened on grass. At this time of year most British lamb will have been “finished” on grain or root vegetables, especially after a year of bad weather when grasses have not flourished. (Lamb is any sheep under one year old: older, it is hogget or mutton). But is winter-fed lamb so much less good than lamb that’s been frozen and shrink-wrapped at slaughter and then spent six or seven weeks at sea?

We put the two lambs to the test. I served the family cutlets, the little chops taken from the neck: each got two perfect jewels of pink fillet, and a little rib to chew on. They looked identical, but they were grown 11,000 miles apart: one was Scottish, the other from New Zealand. I dressed them with a little oil, salt and some rosemary, and put them under a hot grill for a couple of minutes. I didn’t tell the family which cutlet was which. We ate them with new potatoes and a rowan and redcurrant jelly.

The Scottish lamb won 4 votes to zero: “More flavour, juicier – a million times better.” The New Zealand lamb wasn’t bad: a little sweet, a bit bland, as you might expect from something that has spent a couple of months on ice. What probably made more difference than the diet was that the Scottish lamb from Bower’s had been dry-aged – hung for two weeks. And the Kiwi lamb cutlets, bought at Waitrose, were £4 a kilo more expensive. I think I can quite fairly advise you to buy British. Our farmers are having a tough time – and they produce the best lamb.


26 thoughts on “3 good reasons to buy British lamb – so why ship it from New Zealand?

  1. Or grow your own … However I will tackle our local Waitrose on the subject!

    On Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 10:17 AM, Alex Rent

    • exactly, you want to eat it then rear and kill it. else stop whining. waitrose is still way better than tesco etc.

  2. I quizzed Waitrose about this a couple of years ago. The reason then, ‘not enough supply’. Fine if that’s their choice but until customer’s realise that they also have a choice (to shop elsewhere) and consistently act on it, then supermarkets are unlikely to change their sourcing policy. I suspect those reading this blog will already be converted to this ideal, it’s getting the message out to wider audience that I suspect will be the issue.

  3. All New Zealand lamb is Halal certified and has been for years. For this reason I and most people I know never buy it.
    For those of you unaware of what Halal certified lamb is; the lamb is slaughtered in the name of Allah with no stunning. The animals throat is slit while it’s fully conscious and bled out struggling and in fear. It’s a barbaric practice reserved for barbarians with no thought for humane slaughter.
    No thank you.

    • This is complete rubbish. Yes n z lamb is halal slaughtered, but their throats are cut after they have been electrically stunned (same method as in uk) as such the lamb is already brain dead when it’s throat is cut .I know this as I have visited several nz slaughter houses and observed lambs being processed .My interest in this stems from the fact that I farm sheep and arable crops in nz.As to the price of nz lamb,it is much to the continued dissapointment of the nz sheep farmer that our lamb is sold at a discount to British product,consequently reducing the price paid to us the producer. For your information the nz farmer is currently paid nz$4.30/kg carcass weight (April 2014), this is a better price than last year by $1/kg.These prices are so low that many nz sheep farmers have given up farming sheep and are now farming dairy cows, which return about 3x the return on investment.Sheep numbers have halved in nz over the last 15 years or so because of this.As to animal welfare standards,nz’ds standards comply with the uk’s standards as they have to in order maintain uk market access

    • if you think any slaughter is humane you need to stop bleating and become a vegan. i breed and kill my own and dont have access to stunning, and neither do many uk farms. im sick of people talking this way who wont do the dirty work themselves. my sheep and goats die in seconds, but no gods are involved.

  4. Is the Halal method of slaughtering animals in full compliance with animal welfare requirements in New Zealand?
    In New Zealand, all commercial slaughter of livestock, including religious slaughter, must be undertaken in a humane manner in accordance with New Zealand’s animal welfare laws. These laws require animals to be ‘stunned’ immediately prior to slaughter. Stunning ensures an immediate loss of consciousness to prevent animals from feeling any pain during the slaughter process.

    • visit an abattoir. halal these days means they play an mp3 of a prayer in the background. uk is the same except possibly no mp3 song.

  5. First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before
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  6. If they’re unconscious then it’s NOT Halal, simple. Barbaric slaughter aside, my Christian religion forbids me to eat Halal meat as it’s been slaughtered in the name of Allah.
    The fact that all NZ lamb has to be killed in the name of what my religion classes as an idol, a false God, dumbfounds me and has done for years. I just don’t see the justification.
    I find it very insulting that this is the case and that I’m not free to enjoy, what I’m sure is a lovely product.

    • read your bible one more time. its the same god. the one of moses, abraham, etc. ps. unless your god is king james, then you are also obliged to eat kosher food, so no lobster for you sonny. but i agree its a false god…all of them are retarded.

  7. I agree with Steve. So much of the meat on sale now in all supermarkets is UNLABELLED HALAL. Check any meat out that you are buying on the excellent FREE ‘Where’s That From’ app which will tell you exactly where that piece of meat you are buying was slaughtered when you just put in the 4 digit EU Meat Code… which is on all meat sold. It will not tell you if it is a halal slaughterhouse, but by looking up the name online with the word ‘halal’ you can find out.
    Plus the app will give you the FSA’s last inspection result on Humane Slaughter & 3 other categories. We should be able to know what we are buying & eating – it is outrageous that we have no transparency in labelling these days!

    • it is as transparent as you say. they give all the info on the code, you only need to look up the code. if they printed the info in full on the product the box would be huge

  8. If NZ lamb is fully stunned then it is not Halal. If it has a minimal (low amperage stun) then it can be classed as “Halal” which says the animal must be alive at the time of slaughter. The low ampage stun means that the animal can “come round” in 15/20 seconds and can be conscious when its throat is cut. This type of stunning is, IMO, used to fool the public as the producer can quite rightly say that their product is stunned. It is all a matter of degree, as they say.

    • You are partly correct ,but mostly wrong.Yes a lamb may possibly “come round”20 or so seconds after being stunned,but this is highly unlikely as it’s throat was cut 15 seconds ago,whilst it was completely unconscious.In any nz slaughter house I have been in the stunning machine is only a few feet from the throat cutting man (practicing Muslim) who cuts the throat of the unconcious(but,yes still technically alive) lamb.The lambs throat would be cut within 5-10 seconds of being stunned.Frankly from an animal welfare perspective I don’t see the difference between cutting the throat of an unconcious lamb(nz) or a brain dead one (UK),they are both dead and died equally painlessly either which way.To reply to Steve,the justification of humanely halal killing nz lamb is simply market access to middle eastern markets.It would practically be extremely difficult to only halal kill those lambs(or parts there of) that are destined for the middle eastern market

  9. So basically NZ prefers to cater to an Islamic market and has no interest in supplying produce to a non-Muslim consumer, glad you clarified that, very sad though.
    I’m really sick of hearing ‘we have to supply Halal for Muslims because they can’t eat any other meat as it’s Haram’ The fact that it’s clearly stated in the Quran that they can eat whatever is available seems to have gone over most peoples heads.
    The majority of other religions forbid the eating of Halal meat so what about them? It seems to me that Muslims are being wrongly prioritised more and more each day and the majority [in non Islamic States/Countries] are made suffer and their choice limited or in this case, removed completely.
    At the end of the day this type of slaughter was originally banned for a reason, I and many others have seen this slaughter, it’s barbaric, usually not done correctly, and exists because it’s cheaper to produce, simple. ‘Halal’ in most cases is merely used as a way to reduce cost.
    Barbarism aside, no non-Mulsim would want the Shahada said over their meat, to think that is acceptable is ludicrous. Any ‘business’ that presumes that this is acceptable is doomed to fail and I hope it’s sooner rather than later.
    If NZ lamb farmers are happy to cater for one market, fine. I won’t eat Halal meat, stunned or not, and all the people I know choose not to either once they know what it’s all about. Thankfully, more and more people are becoming aware of what’s going on, if clear labelling was introduced, sales of Halal meat would plummet and things would change very fast, I look forward to that day.

    • The nz sheep industry exports roughly 300000 tonnes of lamb each year,about 65000 tonnes of that is exported to the uk,roughly 80000 tonnes goes to china,the rest to a multitude of different markets including Germany,frace,Belgium,Japan,north America,etc etc,and yes some to the Middle East and North Africa,so clearly we have a great interest in supplying the non Muslim market.I have tried,seemingly in vain,to try to clearly explain to you how a lamb is halal slaughtered in nz,but you seem to not want to listen,so,I will try again.Reguardless of weather a lamb is killed in nz or in the uk,first the lamb is electrically stunned,it is then unconcious,only then is it’s throat cut.THE ONLY difference here between halal and non halal slaughter is that someone says a prayer whilst cutting the throat.I agree that the traditional method of dragging a fully conscious lamb down the road and cutting its throat is barbaric,but this has never,nor will ever happen in nz.Though most nz lamb processors do halal kill,som do not,the slaughter house I send my lambs to(blue sky meats) does not,but I can absolutely guarantee you that aside from a prayer being said in the halal plants there is NO difference in the method of slaughter.My wife’s uncle is a meat plant worker,in his off season he has worked in a number of foreign meat plants,in Australia,Norway,Scotland,and this year he is heading to Iceland.He tells me that the hygiene and welfare standards in nz meat plants are well above what he has seen anywhere else ,I think he would be far more qualified to make this assessment than you could have any chance of doing.Given the afore mentioned facts I can only conclude that your only problem with nz lamb is that someone with a different religious belief to yours said a prayer.That strikes me as being incredibly arrogant,what you are telling me is that somehow your beliefs are more valid than the next persons.If one was to take your position on a prayer being said in the presence of a dead lamb to its logical conclusion,would this mean you would refuse to eat a meal at a restaurant table,if previously a Muslim person had eaten at that table an had said a prayer before hi meal?.I do not share your religion,nor anybody else’s,I believe everyone has the individual right to believe what they see fit,so long as their beliefs do not impinge upon the human rights of others,I have to wonder how tollerent you are of people who don’t share your view of the world.Me? I’m an atheist bought up Anglican,went to a Presbyterian high school ,married a catholic,who’s step father is Jewish,my sister in law and her husband are christadelphian,and my children attend a catholic school,and you know what?,we all get along just fine,I have to wonder weather you could?

  10. Steve’s posts in this blog are standard Islamophobic hateful/spiteful misinformed fare. I’d be willing to be he knows next to nothing about what actually goes on in terms of the slaughter of lambs in New Zealand (halal or otherwise), but just hates muslims/Islam and heard that NZ lamb might be halal and is therefore spending days on the internet voicing a bunch of misinformed lies. Thanks to Shane Collie for at least trying to provide some reasonable information, but it seems given the number of posts this “Steve” is on a mission.

    In terms of halal meat, I have no qualms with it as long as the animal is pre-stunned where possible. Stunning has been categorically deemed allowable by all of the relevant Islamic food standards agencies, so to claim that stunned animals cannot be “halal” is an outright lie – stunning technology was not around when the religion was formed so anyone who says it is forbidden is making things up. The process of slitting the throat was entirely done in the first place to ensure that the animal suffered the least – without stunning technology which has only been around in the past half century, I wonder what exactly the other “non-barbaric” means of slaughter is meant to be if you’re not going to slit the throat? Would be interesting to hear a response on this, though no doubt I won’t get one.

    What I’m more concerned about is the standard of life for these animals, how they’re treated, and what they’re fed. I think we need to do away with battery farms and any type of farm where animals are restricted. Even barn chickens for example, no chicken should live its entire life indoors with minimal space.

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  13. I don’t know what you all seem to get upset or debate the halal method of slaughter.
    All bergers made for mcdonalds is halal certified.

  14. This is an absolute scandal we should be able to buy British meat at a reasonable price as our farmers get so little for it not to mention the fact that they get next to nothing for the fleece!!

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