New Zealand lamb bosses launched a scathing attack on retailers last week, after a round of emergency meetings with UK farmers to defuse tension over low lamb prices.
"Retailers in the UK have been playing us off against British producers," said Mike Petersen, chairman of Meat and Wool New Zealand. "I want to remind supermarkets that sheepmeat is a premium product. If they want to see it on shelves, they have to pay fair prices."
He warned buyers they would have to pay more for sheepmeat in the future. This year's low prices were undermining production in New Zealand and tightening lamb supplies, he claimed. Farmers there made a loss on each kilogram of meat they shipped to the UK in 2007, forcing some to switch to dairy production.
Petersen, who described the opening minutes of the meetings with producer groups as tense as "an All Blacks Test match", said he'd buried the hatchet with British lamb producers, anger over low prices and the longer-than-usual season for New Zealand lamb.
"During discussions we realised we've got a lot more in common than divides us. New Zealand farmers have been getting poor prices, too, so we're all in the same boat."
The MLC, Meat Promotion Wales and Irish food agency Bord Bia were supportive of New Zealand involvement with a generic lamb promotion in key markets next year.
Meat and Wool New Zealand will spend about £3m on promotion in 2007, and it plans to increase the budget for 2008. However, Petersen stopped short of agreeing any sort of curbs on the amount of New Zealand sheepmeat coming to Britain, or the time of year it arrived.
"A tighter exporting season is not practical and not what the consumer wants," he claimed. "If supermarkets can sell it, we should ship it - it's the market that decides, and we wouldn't want it any other way."