UK facing oversupply of up to 1.7 million home produced lambs Emergency official measures to prevent a lamb market meltdown in the coming autumn are regarded in the industry as inevitable, and a strong hint of price support action being planned was given on Monday by DEFRA adviser Mike Roper. At the MLC's Outlook conference in London, Roper did not quite confirm Private Storage Aid programme or purchase for destruction, but referred to official assistance "should it be necessary....and I'm sure it will be". The impending shakeout of prices is seen as unavoidable because exports are banned due to the FMD crisis, locking into the domestic market product usually accounting for up to a third of national sheepmeat output during July-September and at least a quarter in the final three months of an average year. Although the livestock movement restrictions imposed to deal with the FMD epidemic have reduced lamb slaughterings sharply, and some New Zealand product has been diverted to the continent, these supply changes are nowhere near big enough to prevent a surplus. According to calculations by MLC economist Jane Connor, the UK is facing oversupply of up to 1.7 million home produced lambs in the marketing year to the end of March 2002. In a cautious but detailed analysis presented by Connor at the conference, she suggested there might be a surprisingly sharp contraction of home production, which together with some resumption of exports from Northern Ireland could imply a surplus closer to 1.5 million head, yet this would still leave a serious trade imbalance. However, it became clear at the conference there was widespread unease in the industry over the possible effects of a market support scheme. Ralph Green of Scottish processor McIntosh Donald warned of a need to avoid sabotaging commercial marketing initiatives, and pointed out there could be questions of EU legality posed by a storage programme seen as underpinning prices. In private, New Zealand lamb traders are worried by the market outlook: "Things are OK at the moment, with our prices doing nicely, but it could turn into an awful mess next year," one commented to The Grocer. {{M/E MEAT }}