Lamb im­ports soar as for­mer fa­vorite cuts get the chop from shop­pers

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By ZHONG NAN zhong­nan@chi­

China’s hunger for lamb and mut­ton has pushed the coun­try to im­port more of it re­cently with trade part­ners that help the na­tion keep up with do­mes­tic de­mand for the high-protein, low-fat meat

Thanks to China’s higher earn­ings and in­creas­ingly di­verse diet, mut­ton has be­come pop­u­lar.

Last year, the coun­try im­ported 259,000 met­ric tons of mut­ton — mainly Aus­tralia and New Zealand — which was a 109 per­cent in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cus­toms.

Ding Shengjun, se­nior re­searcher at the Academy of State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Grain, said Chi­nese con­sumers have taken to lamb, and the meat can be found at hot pot, ha­lal and other restaurants across the coun­try.

“Ur­ban­iza­tion is an­other key fac­tor that has shifted Chi­nese di­ets from con­tain­ing mostly grains to one that in­cludes more meat and dairy prod­ucts,” Ding said.

Con­sumers, he said, are “not only in­ter­ested in buy­ing lamb chunks as be­fore” but are pur­chas­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the sheep, a trend that has surged in re­cent years.

Aus­tralia, one of China’s ma­jor sup­pli­ers, shipped 10,092 met­ric tons of sheep shoul­der chops and 27,026 met­ric tons of mut­ton sweet­breads to China in 2013, both up more than 50 per­cent from a year ear­lier.

Chi­nese de­mand for Aus­tralian leg of lamb jumped 72 per­cent year-on-year to 6,390 met­ric tons last year, ac­cord­ing to cus­toms data.

Yu Bin, di­rec­tor of the depart­ment of macroe­co­nomic re­search at the State Coun­cil De­vel­op­ment Re­search Cen­ter, said the changes in food con­sump­tion re­flect greater eco­nomic suc­cess. One ob­vi­ous sign is ris­ing in­ter­na­tional trade in food prod­ucts.

Chi­nese cit­i­zens con­sumed an aver­age of 16.5 kg of mut­ton per capita in 2013, com­pared with only 12 kilo­grams in 2008. The Bei­jing-based China Meat As­so­ci­a­tion pre­dicts that this fig­ure will reach 28 kg be­tween 2017 and 2022.

“The de­mand for mut­ton cer­tainly will pro­vide many op­por­tu­ni­ties for ma­jor mut­ton-ex­port­ing mar­kets such as Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Canada,” Yu said.

Yu said de­mand for the meat in China’s western re­gion, par­tic­u­larly in Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Qing­hai and Gansu prov­inces, has quickly grown over the past three years, mainly be­cause it is get­ting more ex­pan­sive to raise sheep in western China, where the econ­omy and live­stock in­dus­try are less de­vel­oped than in the east­ern prov­inces.

Due to ris­ing feed prices, limited graz­ing land and the breed­ing cy­cle, China’s sheep breed­ing sec­tor lags be­hind con­sumer de­mand and has re­sulted in higher lamb prices over the past five years, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased in De­cem­ber by the In­sti­tute of En­vi­ron­ment and Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment in Agri­cul­ture of the Chi­nese Academy of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences.

Wang Kai, a pro­fes­sor at Nan­jing Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity in Jiangsu prov­ince, said the soar­ing cost of rais­ing sheep has squeezed sheep ranch­ers’ profit mar­gins since 2007. In re­sponse, they started seek­ing al­ter­na­tives, rais­ing pigs, chicken and even don­keys.

To en­sure that prov­inces and au­ton­o­mous re­gions in western China get suf­fi­cient sup­plies, at ma­jor fes­ti­val times, the cen­tral govern­ment has been pro­vid­ing mut­ton and beef to such re­gions as Xin­jiang and Ningxia, where people have eat­ing habits and reli­gions sim­i­lar to those of Mus­lim coun­tries.

The cen­tral govern­ment sup­plied 7,200 met­ric tons of State-re­served mut­ton and beef with set prices to Xin­jiang in Jan­uary and con­tin­ued to of­fer fi­nan­cial and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to en­cour­age lo­cals to raise their own sheep to keep up with mut­ton de­mand in the re­gion.

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