Although EU lamb is still banned in the US due to the TSE rule, the recent removal of the restrictions for Irish beef should pave the way for Irish lamb, according to Emmet Doyle of Bord Bia’s, North America Office.

He says Irish lamb processors could find market advantage in the US due to their grass-fed production system and experience in providing halal and kosher lamb, which is imperative to certain ethnic communities.

According to Doyle, the US Census Bureau estimate that by 2020 half of the US population under the age of 18 will be of ethnic descent and such developments will further grow the importance of lamb.

Doyle says in 2012 there were over 5m head of sheep in the US, with per capita consumption of lamb averaging half a pound per year compared to nearly 50lb for beef.

The region with the highest consumption is the North East, due to high numbers of European and Middle Eastern migrants, he said.

Doyle says this reflects a small but steady increase in demand for lamb.

He also outlined that 2014 saw total sheep meat imports to the US grow by 12% to 194.8m pounds, of which lamb accounted for 84.4%, or 164.5m pounds, with Australia and New Zealand being the two leading exporters.

In 2014, he said the average retail price for lamb rose by 3% from $6.80 to $7.00/lb.

According to Doyle actual lamb consumption in the US is difficult to determine due to sizeable freezer stocks and a lack of detailed industry information.

However, this is all set to change as the USDA will introduce the National Monthly Grass Fed Lamb Report.

Doyle says this will be the first report of its kind and will provide market commentary, pricing for grass fed lamb and information on the direct to consumer market.

He says it is estimated that each year half a million US sheep are channelled into this non-traditional marketplace.

These non-traditional markets offer a premium price compared to the traditional retail and foodservice channel and are targeted at ethnic consumers, he said.