Michael Pascoe: Lamb shock, but at least Oz Day is right this year

While the culture warriors subject our flag to sartorial abuse and swear our very existence depends on a merely 30-year-old public holiday, it turns out Australia Day is on the right day this year.

January 26, 2024, happens to be the last Friday in January and thus, as previously argued, what Australia Day should be – a long weekend at the end of January.

A national day with no baggage. One that celebrates the nation – who we are and can be – without being tied to any historical event. A long weekend without divisiveness to rule off the summer holidays, a salute to beach and waterhole and barbecue and sport, a last hurrah before the kids go back to school with all the daily mayhem that entails, an official end of the silly season.

Depriving the usual suspects of their fake rapture over a Union Jack being raised in a colonial prison would let us concentrate on the serious stuff, like: What the hell has happened to lamb in New Zealand and could it infect us as well?

Someone stumbled across and forwarded to me a 2016 video of a comparative child exposing the myths pushed by the Meat and Livestock Australia annual lamb ads.

After wading through the terrible puns and traditional brotherly Kiwi slurs, I thought I should check on how lamb was faring after another eight years of expensive advertising.

As suspected, per capita lamb consumption is down on 2016 but has been holding steady the past few years, while pork has solidly overtaken beef as our second-favourite meat and chook remains unchallenged as our true national dish. 

We can still be proud, though, of a podium finish for lamb eating, the latest MLA state of the industry report showing we chopped, legged, shanked and backstrapped through seven kilos per head in 2022.

That gave us the silver medal behind the world sheep meat champions – Kazakhstan. 

“The other top sheep meat consumers on a per capita basis were Norway, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and the UK,” reported the MLA. 

But hold your fork, where’s New Zealand? 

I’ve buried the lede: Lamb eating has collapsed across the ditch and is in danger of disappearing. 

According to data agency Statista, New Zealand’s consumption of sheep meat has dropped from a fat 25.5 kilograms per person in 2000 to just under four kilograms in 2020 – a trend that is extrapolated into a forecast of the average Kiwi eating just 2.64 kilograms in 2031.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand seems so embarrassed by the situation that its 46-page New Season Outlook reports on exports, global politics, weather, exchange rate, inflation – absolutely everything except domestic consumption. 

So if New Zealanders don’t want their own lamb, why should anyone else? No wonder Australia has overtaken New Zealand to be the world’s top lamb exporter. (We’re also the No.1 goat exporter, thanks to all our ferals.)

This is the sort of issue that we should be exploring around the barbie on a long weekend at the end of January, not desperate politicians beating up confected outrage over demand falling for beflagged stubby holders in our supermarkets.

Grow up, Australia, and avagreatweekend.

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