As the homegrown lamb season hits its peak, the findings of a new survey found that more than a quarter - 27 per cent - of lamb displayed in the chilled aisles of major supermarkets in June was sourced from abroad.
Co-opertive Food was the worst performer last month, with just 38 per cent of its chilled section lamb having been British, according to the Lamb Watch survey by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.
It was followed by Sainsbury’s (54 per cent), Lidl (55), Asda (66) and Tesco (66).
Four supermarket chains - Morrisons, Waitrose, Budgen’s and Aldi - stocked 100 per cent British lamb.
The National Farmers’ Union said the figures showed retailers could do more to back British sheep farmers at a time when the strength of the pound against the euro was seeing the export market fall away. Exports account for 40 per cent of British lamb sales.
With a glut of lamb now on the home market, lamb producers are also faced with receiving lower prices.
Charles Sercombe, the union’s national livestock board chairman, said: “Farmers will be disappointed with the figures, given that there is obvious potential for our supply chain to capitalise on both seasonality and the increased availability of British lamb this year. Factor in the lowest lamb prices for five years and the arguments for promoting our fantastic British product at this time of year are compelling.
“Although The Co-operative and Asda have recently made announcements about changes to their seasonality, it is a reason why I’d like to see clarity on when the lamb season starts and finishes from our retailers.”
The Co-op said it was working with farmers to extend the British season and that July’s figures would show a greater volume of British lamb. A spokesman said: “This year, the Truly Irresistible Cambrian lamb was in stores from June 15 and then all stockist stores went to 100 per cent British supply of lamb by July 8.”
Mr Sercombe was particularly disappointed by Tesco, saying: The survey shows that Tesco has three per cent less British lamb on shelf in June 2015 when compared to June last year. We are concerned that this three per cent reduction could amount to thousands of British lambs not entering the UK supply chain.”
Tesco did not respond in time when asked to comment by The Yorkshire Post, but last week it defended its lamb sourcing policy after it was questioned by NFU president Meurig Raymond at the Great Yorkshire Show.
A spokesman said: “To ensure our customers have consistently high quality lamb available all year round we source from both the UK and New Zealand.”
It said all lamb on its fresh meat counter was British.
Also at last week’s show, Richard Findlay, the NFU’s regional livestock board chairman, said he wanted the retail price of British lamb to be reduced: “We are stuck with a lot of lamb that is on the home market and yet it isn’t any cheaper in the shops.
“Consumption of lamb continues to decrease annually and if we are to get something positive out of this situation, it would be great to see a lot more consumers (being able to) afford lamb.”