The export of live calves from Great Britain could become a thing of the past if a major new initiative succeeds.
The Beyond Calf Exports project, led by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), draws together farmers’ groups, supply chain partners and retailers to encourage the development of economically viable markets for the domestic rearing and production of male dairy calves.
Historically, many black-and-white dairy calves were considered unsuitable for beef production: Consequently many of the 482,000 born in the UK each year are killed shortly after birth or exported to continental veal farms.Absorbtion
After 18 months’ investigation, the stakeholder group has concluded that the domestic market could easily absorb all Holstein bulls produced on the UK’s dairy farms without depressing prices or exceeding slaughterhouse capacity – even in the unlikely event that all calves could be made available.
The UK is far from self-sufficient in beef, importing about 300,000t a year, much of it manufacturing quality from the Republic of Ireland.
Economists from the Meat and Livestock Commission estimate that realistically the potential increase in the number of reared calves is likely to be 150,000-200,000 a year – equivalent to 65,000-75,000t of beef.
To make the initiative a success the group recognises that viable supply chains are needed to make calf rearing affordable to dairy farmers. The report stated that “There are not enough specialist rearers at present, although there could be if more large processors/retailers were prepared to offer fixed prices for black-and-white carcasses that met specifications.”
But as one industry expert noted, this is a “chicken-and-egg scenario”. “Buyers won’t offer the contracts until they see evidence of better calf-rearing practices and farmers won’t invest in producing healthier, stronger male calves until they see a profitable market.”
To achieve this, the group has committed to three objectives:
- The development of economically viable outlets for the domestic rearing and finishing of male dairy calves
- The development of technical and breeding improvements that may reduce the number of male dairy calves born and/or improve calf quality
- High welfare standards for calf rearing in the UK and other EU member states.
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