The virus, which is thought to be spread by midges, has already been recorded in more than 80 farms in the south of England. It is expected to further escalate lamb prices, which have risen by 16.2 per cent in the year to January.
“The arrival of the virus in the UK is clearly a tragedy for the farms affected, and will also have an impact on the foodservice sector,” said John Pinder, managing director of buying specialist Lynx Purchasing.
“Lamb prices are already rising at very high levels, and will inevitably rise further as a result of the shortage of new spring lamb caused by the virus. That will push the price beyond the point where many operators can afford to offer roast lamb as an option in carveries and Sunday lunches, simply because their customers won’t be prepared to pay the higher prices that will have to be charged.
Pinder warned that restaurants and pubs could also be hit by rising costs of imported lamb.
“Operators may find they’re being asked to pay high prices for meat which isn’t up to their usual standard,” he added. “We’re talking to our meat suppliers to negotiate the best possible prices for our customers for good quality lamb.”
Too early to call
EBLEX – the levy-funded body for the English beef and lamb industry – have been quick to play down the fears, insisting that it is unlikely the virus would impact upon the coming lamb season.
Mike Whittemore, trade marketing manager at EBLEX, told BigHospitality’s sister title Restaurant magazine: “It’s too early to call and there’s a lot of conjecture out there at the moment. However, it’s prudent to say that supplies are tight anyway and prices will remain high come what may.
“Obviously we hope it won’t have much of an impact. We’ll be looking very closely at those lambing this month, but the peak of the lambing season will occur mid next month.
“Fortunately, the area the virus is being reported in at the moment is not a big area of lamb production.”