Milk lambs from Italy, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Ireland and, above all, France, have many possibilities to share these dates in homes and in the Spanish restoration. More than half of imports of lamb concentrates in the Christmas dates, and the Gallic country is the one that sells more to Spain, with 350,000 animals per year that fill the supermarket shelves during the holidays. More than 200,000 of them are sold between November and December, at prices lower than those existing in the domestic market, which influences the prices. After France, Portugal's entries stand out, with more than 60,000 animals. They are followed by Romania with some 40,000, Ireland with 12,000 and Italy and Greece with 2,000.
According to the industry inter-professional, Interovic, imports of live lambs –sometimes perfectly identified and sometimes not– this year will amount to some 470,000 heads (4,700 tonnes), a figure similar to that of the previous year. In net meat volume this figure is about 2,400 tons, more than half of them, equivalent to about 280,000 animals, marketed at this time.
Animals from France tend to have lower prices, because the most important income of the operation correspond to the milk in that country: the meat is marketed as the second product of the animal, at prices between six and seven euros a kilo in origin . In addition, the existence of surplus for this type of lamb, which has little demand, has a downward influence.
Spain also has surpluses. The national production of sheep and goat meat is around 130,000 tons per year (about 16 million heads), compared to a consumption of 100,000 tons. But the problem is the seasonality of consumption. For this reason, part of the production ends up being exported, especially to the countries of North Africa, while the system is forced to rely on imports because it does not have the capacity to meet a consumption that shoots up on certain dates, concentrating among the 50% and 60% of the demand at Christmas.
In addition to live animals, Spain imports 8,400 tons of lamb meat: 2,460 come from Italy, 1,440 come from Greece, 1,250 from France, 780 from New Zealand, 659 from Holland, 500 from Romania and 180 from Portugal. Also in this case the bulk of the meat, about 5,000 tons, is sold at Christmas.
The regulation establishes that on the label the country of origin and breeding of the animal, except when dealing with whole carcasses -that is, the body of the animal without thoracic and abdominal viscera-. In this case it is not mandatory to indicate the origin, although the merchant must have this information available to the buyer. Apart from those labeled, a guideline to know the origin of the meat is in the prices. The Spanish origin is between 14 and 15 euros per kilo in purchases of media or whole lambs (except offers) and the imported can be in the environment of 10 euros.
According to the president of Interovic, Tomás Rodríguez, imported lambs have a weight similar to the Spanish, about 10 kilos live and about 5 in carcass. For those responsible for the interprofessional – but not for some agricultural organizations – the industry complies with the requirements on labeling.
The organization has developed a campaign in the previous months to boost the demand for lamb, of only 1.7 kilos per person per year. On this date, the producers do not call for the purchase of the national product, but they do point out the need for the consumer to know what they are buying.
The labeling of lamb is more strict than that of other foods: European legislation requires full traceability and information on the origin, breeding and slaughter of the animal, as long as it is meat that is sold on a tray. In this case, the consumer has to be attentive and not confuse, for example, the breeding country with the one of sacrifice.
The Interprofessional Ovine Organization, lnterovic, has been asking for more controls to avoid frauds and cheating. This year he launched a campaign, which started at the end of last November, to help the consumer to identify the lamb of national origin. More than 6,000 points of sale between supermarkets and butchers joined the initiative.
And how is a suckling lamb different from a recipes or paschal? The difference is in the animal's age and weight. Milk lambs are so young – they do not exceed a month and a half of life – that they have practically only been raised on the basis of breast milk. Its weight in carcass, removed the viscera, does not exceed seven kilos. The light recental is also an animal of young age, but unlike the suckling has already stopped drinking milk. Its weight ranges between seven and 10 kilos. The recental, for another is between 10 and 13 kilos, and the paschal identifies the animals of greater weight.