Domestic lamb consumption is likely to be a casualty of sky-high prices but producers shouldn't be "scared", according to Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Jason Strong.
Mr Strong said using movements in the level of domestic lamb consumption as the sole measure of the industry's marketing success was "crazy" given the recent sharp lift in export demand and prices.
Speaking at the Lambition dinner in Bendigo, he said concerns were being raised within the industry about the potential impacts of high retail prices on the domestic market.
He said producers should not be "scared" of the higher prices now being paid by consumers because they were delivering a high-quality, consistent product to them.
He said he expected pushback from domestic consumers because of record lamb prices.
Asked if producers should be concerned about this outcome, Mr Strong said only if they viewed the number of kilograms of lamb eaten by domestic consumers as the key measure of how the industry (and MLA's marketing campaigns) was performing.
MLA had been "bashed up" by critics because of the 10kg drop in domestic beef consumption from 2000 to around 2014.
What they ignored was the increase in exports and the price domestic consumers were willing to pay for beef.
Chicken consumption had trebled from 2000-2019 but the price had stayed the same at around $5/kg "give or take a few cents".
Beef prices, on the other hand, had risen from around $10.30/kg to a tick under $20 now, he said.
Soaring lamb prices and keen export demand was now placing lamb in the same boat as beef.
Producers needed to look at the broad drivers for the current dramatic lift in prices - a drought-triggered supply shortage and a significant lift in high-value demand for sheepmeat from well-heeled groups of consumers in export countries headed by the US and China.
MLA was focused on extracting maximum value from export markets while supporting domestic consumers who understandably weren't happy about paying $50/kg for lamb cutlets.
He said high demand for lamb and mutton was likely to be sustained for a "period of time" given the much diminished sheep flock, keen demand, and ongoing drought in many areas.
Mr Strong spent his early years on the family's sheep and beef property at Walcha in the NSW New England where his parents were the first producers in the district to crack the $10 mark for lambs in the 1970s. Now lamb was fetching $10/kg.
Mr Strong said drought, not high prices, was the reason for the decline in both Australia's sheep and beef numbers.
"People are selling their ewes because they can't [afford to] feed them, not because the price is high," he said.
On the increase in the activities of radical vegans, Mr Strong said the industry shouldn't try to engage them because they were irrational, they hated the livestock industries and they wouldn't listen.
But the meat and livestock industries should avoid getting offside with moderate vegans and vegetarians who represented around eight per cent of the Australian population.
While radical vegans who trespassed on farms should be dealt harshly by the law the real solution was for the livestock industries to find better ways to engage with the broader community, he said.