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Vegan-stirring lamb ad pulling the wool over our eyes

The sheep farmers of Australia would like to thank all the vegans who complained about Meat and Livestock Australia's latest effort to convince us to eat lamb on Australia Day.

Making Operation Boomerang our most complained about ad is wonderful publicity.

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Lamb ad pulls wool over our eyes

Meat and Livestock Australia has tried to convince Australians for years that lamb is our national dish, but that's not necessarily true. Michael Pascoe comments.

A word of comfort here for such vegans: of all the things that might happen to you in Brooklyn, I wouldn't worry too much about having your kale torched by commandos.

I intended to join in the Australia Day fun by explaining that the lamb ads had actually pulled the wool over Australians' eyes – but facts have got in the way of what is still a good story.

Australians have been convinced by 12 years of Australia Day lamb jingoism that lamb is the national dish. Always has been, always will be. Well, at least since it became an alternative to kangaroo.

But that's not actually true. Back in the day, when under-nourished 10-pound Poms were struggling off boats, Australia was proud to be the country that served steak for breakfast. Lamb was New Zealand's national dish – and good-looking lamb it often was too.


So we've been hoodwinked by Sam Kekovich and Co. It turns out our wallets haven't.

In the 1971-72 financial year, when American servicemen were enjoying R and R in Kings Cross, classy menus pretty much came down to a choice between steak and eggs and steak and chips, with maybe a mixed grill on special occasions. Yet we still managed to consume 23.8 kilos of lamb per person. That's a lot of forequarter chops for a kiddy.

In 2013-14, per capita lamb consumption was down to just 8.9 kilos, picking up a bit to 9.3 kilos in 2014-15.

By comparison, the MLA reckons each of us ate 28.6 kilos of beef last financial year.

So, despite Kekovich's best efforts, are we turning into a nation of quinoa crunchers, lentil lickers, tofu tossers?

Not really. It's chicken that now rules the roost. On average we each ate about 47 kilos of chook last year – and chicken consumption is expected to keep rising while red meat declines.

Lamb can't even score a bronze medal – we eat about three times as much pork which is closing in on beef for silver.

The "pork on your fork" and "the other white meat" ads have worked better than the "eat lamb on Australia Day or I'll rip yer bloody arms off and send Alan Jones around to your place to start a riot".

There's also the little matter of price. Chook is by far the cheapest of the meats and pig is line-ball with lamb – our hip pocket nerve plays a large part in deciding what our taste buds will receive.

If you can trust the Australian Chicken Meat Federation not to crow about their success, their web site has a couple of interactive graphs that tell the price and consumption history along with a little brave forecasting of what we'll eat over the next couple of years.

The rise of pork and chicken is an international phenomenon, both being more suitable for factory farming.

There also have been dubious health claims made on behalf of white meat and against red – something that at one stage caused a mismatch in the pork v bacon divide, as explained at fascinating length in a Bloomberg feature on the bacon boom.

Lamb is not giving up without a fight. The Australia Day ads demonstrably lift our lamb buying – but only briefly. In the week of Australia Day 2015, we bought 35 per cent more lamb than the week before.

But it doesn't matter – it's really just a kiwi thing anyway.

Michael Pascoe is an omnivore and BusinessDay contributing editor



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