Sheep meat

​​​​​Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, January 2018

These fact sheets provide current information about how the Australian Government is supporting the agriculture, fisheries and water sectors, and are available for download.


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Sheep meat

Sheep meat is a significant source of income for around one in three Australian farmers. It also provides greater economic certainty for many mixed enterprise farmers by offering a supplementary income stream alongside cropping.

Australian sheep meat accounts for almost half the value of the world’s export market with New Zealand the only close competitor. In 2016–17, exports generated nearly $2.7 billion, or $2.9 billion when live sheep exports are included.

The domestic market accounts for around 40 per cent of lamb production, with Australians topping the list as the world’s biggest consumers of sheep meat per capita based on the latest OECD figures.


Building a stronger sheep meat industry

The Australian Government is helping farmers to build a more profitable, resilient and sustainable sheep meat sector by:

  • providing dollar-for-dollar matching funds of $49.3 million in 2016–17 alongside the funding already invested by the sector through levies—for R&D to advance the cattle, goat, lamb and sheep sector
  • providing additional R&D funding through the Rural R&D for Profit program including $6 million to convert waste from sheep meat and other meat into products such as fertilisers, feeds, chemicals and energy
  • negotiating with the United Arab Emirates to extend the accepted shelf life for Australian vacuum-packed sheep meat from 70 days up to 90 days, driving down freight costs and increasing demand in this critical distribution hub for the Middle East
  • negotiating access with China for live slaughter sheep and for improved access for meat—estimated to be worth an extra $400 million per year for Australia’s meat industries
  • investing $30.8 million under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to increase access to markets including 5 extra agricultural counsellors on the ground in overseas markets to negotiate access and tackle technical barriers to trade
  • advancing animal welfare across the international supply chain including committing $8.3 million towards implementing the Livestock Global Assurance Program
  • implementing a comprehensive foreign investment framework for agriculture to improve transparency and give the community and investors confidence in our foreign investment arrangements
  • introducing new country of origin labelling laws making it easier for consumers to see how much of their food is Australian made, grown or produced
  • introducing legislation to establish an ‘effects test’ in national competition law to protect small businesses from the impact of anti-competitive conduct by large, counterparty businesses
  • providing $25.8 million over 4 years to help manage the effects of pest animals and weeds in drought-affected areas, and an additional $50 million for pest animals and weeds across Australia.

Key Facts

  • Australia and New Zealand dominate the global export market for sheep meat, comprising 42% and 43%, respectively, of all exports by value.
  • In 2016–17 farm cash incomes of Australian lamb-producing farms are expected to be the highest in more than 20 years.
  • Australia shipped 390,000 tonnes of sheep meat in 2016–17 to overseas markets, primarily the United States, the Middle East, China and the European Union.
  • Exports of Australian lamb have been growing steadily—from around 157,000 tonnes in 2006–07 to more than 254,000 tonnes in 2016–17.


Export markets for sheep meat, 2016-17


Australian sheep meat, 2012 to 2017


Further information

General inquiry 1800 900 090
GPO Box 858, Canberra ACT 2601

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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