Story: Meat and wool

Page 4. Marketing sheep meat

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Volume and value of exports

In 2006, 362,000 tonnes of sheep meat were exported from New Zealand, earning $2.3 billion. New Zealand produced 6% of the world’s total sheep meat, but accounted for 55% of the international sheep meat trade and 75% of the lamb meat trade.

From the early 1990s to 2008, the volume of sheep meat exports remained steady, at around 350,000 tonnes each year. However, the value of these rose steeply from 1991 to 2001, due to increased prices and a favourable exchange rate.


In the early 2000s, the UK was still the largest export destination for sheep meat, by both volume and value. The rest of the European Union was the next most important market, taking nearly 150,000 tonnes in 2006. Lamb exports to Europe accounted for 51% of New Zealand’s total lamb export trade for 2006. Other markets included North America (44,500 tonnes), North Asia (39,200 tonnes) and the Pacific (24,500 tonnes).

The value of sheep meat exports to China grew considerably from the 1990s, from $560,000 in 1995 to $37.8 million for 2005. In total, exports to North Asia (Japan, Korea and Taiwan) have grown from $74.6 million in 1995 to $157.6 million in 2005, with a record trade of $190.5 million in 2004.

Halal slaughter

In 1979 the New Zealand Meat Producers Board secured a four-year contract to export 200,000 tonnes of lamb to Iran. To meet the requirements of the Islamic religion, this meat had to be slaughtered in accordance with halal practices.

Halal slaughter is a ritual way of killing animals that follows Islamic teaching. It requires an abattoir approved and supervised by an Islamic religious organisation, and a trained Muslim slaughterman. The animal must be healthy at the time of slaughter, must face Mecca, and must be killed with a single cut of a clean, razor-sharp knife that severs the carotid artery, jugular vein, gullet and windpipe, without cutting the spinal cord. All the blood must be drained from the carcass before any further processing.

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand signed the first annual contract with the Meat Producers Board (later the Meat Industry Association) in 1984 to provide certification for Muslim halal slaughtermen. From these beginnings, New Zealand has become the world’s largest exporter of halal-slaughtered sheep meat. It also exports halal-slaughtered beef.

From carcasses to cuts

Since the mid-1980s there has been a progressive shift away from shipping whole sheep carcasses. In 1971 over 90% of sheep meat was exported as whole carcasses; in 2006 just 3.9% was. The export of lamb as cuts has increased from less than 10% in 1971 to 81.5% in 2006.

From frozen to chilled meat

The volume of chilled exports has grown significantly since the commercial release of Captech packaging, which uses carbon dioxide to extend the life of chilled red meat, in 1988. Chilled products made up just below 15% of total export tonnage from 2002 to 2005. It sold for higher prices than frozen meat – between 1999 and 2005, the value of chilled exports fluctuated at around 20% of total sheep meat exports, peaking in 2004 at 25%.

How to cite this page:

Alistair Nicol and Caroline Saunders, 'Meat and wool - Marketing sheep meat', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 April 2024)

Story by Alistair Nicol and Caroline Saunders, published 24 Nov 2008