Sainsbury’s has committed to selling 100% British fresh new season lamb from 1 July.

The supermarket said its commitment, which means it will now only sell British chilled lamb when in season, would continue on an ongoing basis. The pledge would also provide customers with “quality tender lamb” and bolster its support for the British lamb industry, it added.

Sainsbury’s has previously limited its commitment to 100% British new season lamb sourcing to its chilled Taste the Difference, organic and meat counter ranges. Its core packaged lamb range has generally been made up of varying ratios of New Zealand and British lamb, dependent on availability.

The retailer’s head of agriculture Beth Hart said Sainsbury’s had been able to increase British sourcing by “working closely” with its 1,000-strong dedicated Lamb Development Group, and had been further boosted this year by an early spring with plentiful sunshine, which in turn brought forward the supply and availability of new season lamb.

“Switching our core lamb range across to 100% British lamb in season means we are supporting our British farmers,” she added.

Just 56% of Sainsbury’s lamb facings were British last June, according to AHDB’s Beef & Lamb Watch survey, however, this figure rose to 96% by August 2016 and to 97% in November, before falling to 84% in January.

The likes of Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco have all faced criticism in the past over their listing of imported lamb when British lamb is in season, with NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe bemoaning the “mixed messages” from retailers to the sheep sector in July 2015.

However, Sercombe welcomed Sainsbury’s commitment this week as a “positive step”, which provided a welcome boost for British sheep farmers and clarity on Sainsbury’s sourcing.

“This move shows that working with your supply base builds trust and innovation which improves quality and consistency,” he added, and would allow retailers to “extend the period they stock British lamb over imported lamb that has travelled many thousands of miles to reach our supermarket shelves”.

Sercombe urged Sainsbury’s to now further “extend the season for British lamb, as far as possible”.

He added: “We know that there has been a gradual decline in lamb consumption. That’s why it is so important that the whole supply chain works hard to ensure the consistency and quality of the product, and to promote new cuts of lamb to a wider audience including younger people and families.”

It follows an announcement by the Co-op in May that it was switching to 100% UK-sourced fresh and frozen meat.