By Philip Clarke

A QUESTIONMARK over stocking rates could undermine a new scheme intended to develop the market for British veal.

Launched at two sites last week one in Wales and one in Sussex the Anglo/French joint venture involves feeding calves until they are just over six months old, before slaughtering them for export.

The calves are owned by abattoir group ADM, with French company Serval supplying the feed and marketing the meat.

The farmer provides the building and gets a management fee, to be determined once it is known what the calves make when slaughtered.

The potential problem is that animals must be at least six months old before they may be exported under the date-based scheme.

But six months is also the age at which they start counting towards stocking rate calculations for extensification premium.

“We operate just below the stocking rate limit,” says Anthony Goldsmith, owner of the farm in Sussex where 86 calves are being reared.

He does not want to lose his extensification money, by including the calves.

But Paul Ashworth of ADM is confident a solution can be found.

“As well as owning the calves, we have established our own separate holding number. MAFF is only concerned because the animals appear on Mr Goldsmiths movement records.”

The NFU, which has acted as a facilitator in the venture, is not so sure.

“If one of the six census days for extensification falls while the calves are on the holding they will count, unless MAFF makes special dispensation,” says NFU livestock adviser, Kevin Pearce.

The intention is to move the calves to an abattoir as yet to be certified under the date-based scheme as soon as they pass six months old.

But inevitably there will be some delay, as it has to be verified that all the calves dams are still alive, to be eligible for export.

The first batch is due to be killed in the second half of June, at 27 weeks old.

Although there is no firm buyer, company executives are confident the veal will find an outlet, probably in Italy or Spain.

The welfare-friendly nature of the production system should ensure a place in the market.

“There is also the opportunity to develop demand in the UK, where there is a strong preference for welfare-friendly products,” says NFU deputy president Tim Bennett.

It remains to be seen what price the veal may fetch. In France “finished” calves sold at five months are making about F4200 (380) a head.