Producer outrage at Cowan call for contraction in UK flock Traders expect weak summer Some lamb traders, especially in Scotland, still believe a weak summer market is likely and doubt MLC's prediction prices will not collapse in autumn this year as happened in 1997 and 1998. Their suspicion is shared by senior MAFF official Richard Cowan, who warned of a supply glut when speaking at the recent MLC conference on the Agenda 2000 CAP reform package. Cowan is highly respected even by analysts whose forecasts he occasionally challenges in public. He was earlier and more accurate than MLC, for instance, in predicting the severe shakeout in beef cattle prices last year. However, Cowan's latest comments on short-term price prospects have been overshadowed by producer outrage at his call for a contraction in the UK sheep breeding flock to reduce the industry's dependence on the export trade. Farming leaders like to claim large and unsatisfied markets for UK lamb and mutton exist on the Continent, although they admit one reason for keeping the trade open ­ particularly in live lambs ­ is as a lever to extract higher prices from British processors and multiples. Major abattoir operators say there is little profit in the business and at least one, McIntosh Donald, recently stopped exporting. Producers' indignant response to the latest remarks by Cowan follows angry reaction to his earlier criticism of the industry for the low average quality of its output. Grading statistics prove nearly half the lambs produced in the UK are below the standard major retailers regard as acceptable, though MLC points out it is putting money and research effort into upgrading hill lamb quality. {{MEAT }}