Prices rising in the past couple of weeks; reduced commercial kill masks problems Restricted supply to leave legacy of severe shortage Prices have been rising in the home produced lamb market in the past couple of weeks, and some livestock traders claim severe shortages are probable before next spring. The decision by Brussels vets to permit limited resumption of British sheepmeat exports is not in itself enough to cause scarcity. Exports will be permitted initially only from counties never infected. Some of the regions most important for sourcing lambs ­ Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire, the south west and Wales ­ have been hardest hit. So the MLC has warned against unrealistic hopes of an immediate commercial boost for the sheep sector. This could be good news for domestic buyers as it implies little chance of sharp price increases. But much of the impact of foot and mouth on the sector has been felt as restricted supply rather than cheap stock, provoking complaints from major retailers. Although home produced lambs have fallen in price and are currently about 15% cheaper than a year ago, there has been nothing like market collapse. Slaughterings have fallen by roughly the number of lambs as would usually have been exported, leaving net supply from the home industry and imports close to the normal tonnage. But producer lobbyists point out the market balance is an illusion, the reduced commercial kill masking problems including the risk of major animal welfare crises on farms this winter. DEFRA's livestock census estimates in June reports that the mid year breeding flock was 15% smaller in England than two months previously. The number of lambs aged under a year tumbled 17%. Changes in production capacity and actual output due mainly but not only to FMD had by June already taken out of the supply equation about half of the livestock that would usually go to overseas buyers of sheep or sheepmeat. Further contraction has certainly occurred since the census. Against this background it becomes easy to see a rising market if for no other reason that producers' need to buy lambs and hoggets for rebuilding breeding capacity, regardless of short-term export demand. {{MEAT }}