15 Feb 2017

National Lamb Day celebrates NZ exports

8:25 am on 15 February 2017

It is National Lamb Day in New Zealand, marking 135 years since the first export of sheep meat.

On 15 February 1882, William Davidson and Thomas Brydone launched the first shipment of frozen sheep meat to London from Port Chalmers in Otago.

The Uruguay round increased the amount of lamb New Zealand could export to the UK to 228,000 tonnes.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand says the significance of National Lamb Day has grown each year. Photo: 123RF

Beef and Lamb New Zealand's Auckland chief executive, Rod Slater, said the day was a turning point for the New Zealand primary sector.

"That really was the beginning of the New Zealand agricultural export story. It is a very significant day."

He said Beef and Lamb had worked closely with retailers throughout New Zealand.

"We've been discussing it with them for about the last six months so they are all geared up and you'll see quite a bit of promotion this week.

It had been a tough year for sheep farmers and Mr Slater said he hopes the national day gives them some encouragement that their product is well supported.

"Let's not forget that roast lamb with mint sauce is still New Zealand's most favourite meal, we know that through the research we've done - so we're still number one."

While it does not put dollars in the bank for farmers, it shows that lamb is very popular, said Mr Slater.

National Lamb Day only began three years ago when the date of the first shipment of sheep meat was discovered.

Mr Slater said the celebration is in its early days and had gathered momentum each year.

"Whilst it's not as big as Australia Day and it's not being held on Waitangi day - we still think it's really significant and it's a day that lamb can own on its own and not share it, it is our day."

To celebrate the British High Commission is hosting a dinner tonight and New Zealand lamb will be the main attraction, said Mr Slater.

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