By Philip Clarke

THE first veal calves from a new Anglo-French venture were slaughtered this week at the St Merryn Meat plant in Cornwall.

They will be exported to Belgium and Italy this weekend.

Launched at two sites – one in Wales and one in East Sussex – last April, the scheme involves feeding the calves in welfare-friendly units until they are just over six months old and eligible for export.

Kent-based abattoir group ADM owns the stock, and feed is supplied by French company Serval. The farmer provides the building and labour for a management fee.

It was initially intended to slaughter the first of the 86 calves from the East Sussex unit in mid-June.

“But there was some slippage, as we had to work to the youngest in the batch,” said ADMs Paul Ashworth.

Finding a suitable abattoir was also a problem because so few are prepared to meet the demands of the date-based export scheme.

Verification also caused difficulties. Under the DBES, dams of all animals must have survived for at least six months. Checking this took four days and led to numerous rejections.

“If it was down to dam mortality alone, we would have had about 14% rejections,” said Mr Ashworth. “But the biggest problem we had was with ear-tag irregularities.”

In particular, some farmers filling in calf passports failed to record accurately the dams ear-tag number, instantly rendering the calf ineligible for export.

In total, only 48 of the 86 calves qualified for export. Mr Ashworth said the price would provide a margin “in line with fattening beef”.

Despite the teething problems, Mr Ashworth said he was delighted to have achieved ADMs first export consignment.

“The plan is to fill up our East Sussex unit during July and then to set up one unit a month on farms throughout the country for the next two years.”

The first calves from the Welsh site will be slaughtered in September.