01 September 1999
MAFF pins calf hopes on pink veal
by Johann Tasker
FARMERS should investigate the market for pink veal before deciding whether to shoot new-born dairy bull calves, the Ministry of Agriculture has claimed.
The slump in farm prices has seen dairy producers abandon week-old dairy bull calves in phone boxes and even shoot the animals during the past month.
Values have plummeted close to zero since the governments calf processing aid scheme which guaranteed about 40 for each calf was withdrawn on 31 July.
But a MAFF spokesman said he believed there was a still market for the animals despite farmers claims that they are only ditching the animals as a last resort.
Much of the veal imported into the country is white veal, produced by keeping calves in dark, restricted conditions and feeding them on milk.
Although producing white veal is banned in the UK, the production of lower-quality pink veal, reared under better animal welfare conditions, is allowed.
Dairy bull calves produce low quality veal, but the MAFF spokesman suggested they could be reared to help reduce the amount of white veal imported into the UK.
While appreciating that you cannot turn dairy bull calves into fully grown beef animals, the fact remains that there is some room for attacking that import gap.
The MAFF spokesman suggested that restaurants should stop serving white veal and should instead serve British reared pink veal, also known as ros veal.
We have a restaurant trade in this country that continues to believe that veal must be white, he said.
What we now have to do is say to the British restaurant trade: You should be providing the veal that your customers have said they want.
The spokesman claimed British consumers would be willing to eat pink veal if they knew it was produced under Britains very tough animal welfare regulations.
We believe that is what the British consumer wants and we believe the restaurant trade is a little bit out of step with the people they are serving, he said.
Dairy producers are likely to see the statement as proof that the government has failed to grasp the seriousness of the plight afflicting the sector.
Farmers leaders are in talks with MAFF to discuss how to increase the marketing opportunities and demand for dairy calves.
But even if some of the calves were reared for pink veal there would still be many more animals coming onto the market without an outlet.
Britains 28,000 farmers could have produced more than 600,000 worthless bull calves by next March, according to some reports.
But UK veal consumption has fallen over recent years and only a small amount is now imported into the country, said the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Dennis Chapple, of the farm consultants ADAS, said farmers should be wary of rearing dairy calves for veal unless they were absolutely sure a market existed.
The only way the market will sell it is if its quality veal and if its quality veal then its generally from a continental heifer, not from a Friesian bull, he said.