The American Sheep Industry Association is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move swiftly to purchase excess lamb as part of the recently announced three-year $100 million industry assistance package.

"Lamb carcass prices dropped as much as $21 per hundred pounds during January, impacting slaughter lamb prices as well. Now is the time for the USDA to act with a lamb purchase as designated by the industry assistance package," said Peter Orwick, ASI's executive director.

The January market drop follows the fall of 1999 in which live lamb prices were 10 to 15 cents per pound above fall 1998 levels. Industry experts attributed last fall's consistent improvement in prices to President

Clinton's July 1999 decision to curb the surge of cheap imports from Australia and New Zealand.

On Jan. 13, the USDA announced a $100 million industry assistance package for the U.S. lamb industry. The three-year $100 million industry assistance package included $15 million over three years ($5 million annually) for lamb purchases.

The assistance package is part of President Clinton's decision last July on the Section 201 trade case, which was spearheaded by ASI and an industry-wide coalition. The president imposed three years of tariffs on lamb imports and ordered the $100 million assistance package to help the industry regain its competitive edge.

On Jan. 15, the ASI Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution at their annual convention in Denver. The resolution called for the USDA to move swiftly on the lamb purchase component of the industry assistance package.

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