Morrisons has ditched fresh New Zealand lamb and promised to stock only British product until at least 2009.
Chief executive Marc Bolland made the pledge last week at a conference hosted by English Farming and Food Partnerships in London. He said the initiative applied to Morrisons' entire fresh lamb offer but not frozen lamb products.
"Sheep farmers are facing real difficulties as a result of livestock movement restrictions," said Bolland. "We are responding to their plight and supporting the industry through this difficult time by increasing availability of quality British fresh lamb throughout the year."
The move is unlikely to cause many problems for Morrisons buyers, because the retailer has traditionally sourced 95% of its fresh lamb from British farmers.
But it has won widespread approval among British farmers, who said the commitment gave them confidence to carry on producing lambs. "This is one of the things we've been asking for," said Peter King, NFU livestock adviser.
"Prices will rise quite quickly and the retailers are going to realise we can produce quality lamb all year round."
The move followed the recent announcement by M&S to delay the seasonal switch-over to New Zealand lamb until at least February in some stores to help clear the domestic lamb surplus.
New Zealand importers agreed there was growing pressure on British retailers to source British lamb, but said they were relaxed about the news. "There's an undeniable trend to support the domestic industry but we haven't got any argument with that," said Paul Philips, general manager of Affco Europe. "It's very difficult to say what the impact will be until we've finalised retail contracts for 2008 this month."
He said New Zealand importers would still meet their EU lamb quota of 227,000 tonnes.