Premium paid for Aussie lamb

By Country News

United States consumers are prepared to pay more for premium-quality Australian lamb loins that can reach Meat Standards Australia’s grade five-star category despite the nation being a cultural desert of lamb cuisine.

Rated as Australia’s most valuable sheep meat export destination, the US has an average per capita consumption of lamb at just 400g or one meal a year.

The US imports 150000 tonnes of sheep meat a year and produces 50000 tonnes domestically.

Murdoch University Biochemistry and Nutrition Professor David Pethick said research had revealed US consumers were willing to pay twice as much for Australian lamb loin graded MSA five star compared to basic three star of good everyday graded lamb.

The study also revealed Chinese consumers were prepared to pay $27/kg while lamb-loving Australians pay $33/kg.

‘‘The Chinese clearly are prepared to pay for quality, perhaps not everyday but for a special occasion,’’ Prof Pethick said.

In the study, US, Chinese and Australian consumers all responded positively to intramuscular fat.

A recent hot pot experiment in China used lamb and yearling forequarter and shoulders sliced to 1.6mm thick and cooked in unflavoured boiling water for 90 seconds.

‘‘There was still a statistical response to intramuscular fat in lamb cut to 1.6mm and boiled — there was a negative relationship with lean meat yield or muscularity,’’ Prof Pethick said.

‘‘These traits even come through in such obscure cooking methods.’’

He said a recent study evaluated grass and grain-fed lamb, and young (five months) versus old lamb (12 months) in the US market.

‘‘It was found there was no effect between grass- and grain-fed lamb at 21 to 45 days post-slaughter. In fact, ageing improved the product out to 21 days, and after that, it held.’’

Sheep Producers Australia chairman Allan Piggott said the future was positive with global sheep meat consumption forecast to increase by 10 per cent in the next seven years.

Mr Piggott said the big challenge would be the forecast fall in US and Mexican consumption due to animal welfare and environmental concerns, and non-tariff barriers.

He said SPA aimed to facilitate increased consumption in the US, Australia’s most valuable export market.