Farmers have accused UK retailers of turning their backs on British lamb.

More than half of the 24 English and Welsh stores inspected by NFU members in a snap survey last week were still stocking between 50% and 100% New Zealand lamb, despite the UK lamb season being in full swing.

Supplies from New Zealand usually help support the UK lamb market while domestic production is low.

NFU chief livestock adviser Peter King slammed the multiples for their slow switch-over to UK lamb this year. "Retail bosses are talking the talk, but at a buyer level they are not walking the walk," he said.

"Customers want local, fresh, extensively-produced food but during our survey we found large quantities of imported lamb sitting on supermarket shelves."

He blamed New Zealand lamb suppliers for flooding the market and undermining farmgate prices. "I think it's just too easy to go out and source New Zealand lamb."

MLC figures show that imports of New Zealand lamb rose in the first quarter of this year compared with 2006. Indeed, in March the increase was more than 40%.

The tension over low prices between British lamb producers and New Zealand importers reached new heights this week when

the chairman of Meat and Wool New Zealand, Mike Peterson, flew in to

London to tackle critics.

He met the NFU and sheep farming representatives for face-to-face discussions about pricing on Thursday (14 June), after The Grocer went to press.

The retailers have so far kept out of the bust-up between the rival suppliers. Waitrose said it had been selling only fresh British lamb since May and would do so until December.

The chain also claimed it was paying its 450 Welsh and 200 West Country lamb farmers a 10% premium over the market rate. "We're working hard to support British lamb producers through this current crisis," said a spokeswoman.

Sainsbury's said its prepacked lamb offer was still in transition to British supplies.