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Ground-breaking agreement over UK male dairy calves

News Section Icon Published 22/01/2008

A new initiative has the potential to end the export of British calves and to ensure that they are reared in high welfare conditions in the UK.

"The key to reducing calf exports is to develop markets that will mean that the calves are worth more at home than they would be abroad. That way, everyone wins, including the calves themselves."

Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmers' Union

Members of the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholder Forum have agreed a report that aims to support and encourage the development of economically viable outlets for the domestic rearing and finishing of male dairy calves. The Forum is the initiative of Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA and has uniquely brought together stakeholders from industry, retail, government, academia and animal welfare who have spent the last 18 months working together to produce this agreement.

Face Of Veal Calf

Until now, many of the black and white male dairy calves have been considered unsuitable for beef production: as a result, many of the 482,000 born in the UK each year are either killed soon after birth or exported to continental veal farms where they may be kept in group rearing systems that do not meet UK standards.

Compassion in World Farming's CEO, Philip Lymbery, welcomed the agreement saying, "This collaborative approach to improving animal welfare is truly ground breaking. We hope that these measures will now be implemented by all stakeholders so that we can move beyond calf exports and bring lasting and mutual benefits to animal welfare and industry alike."

In their new report forum members have agreed to support and encourage:

  • 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.

They have also pledged to promote and develop UK and export market opportunities for home-produced beef and to encourage consumers to buy welfare-friendly British beef.

The forum's agreement should lead to significant changes in dairy and beef farming practices that, when translated into specific proposals by individual stakeholders, are likely to create a sea-change in attitudes to male dairy calves.

Forum stakeholders will now be working within their sectors of the farming and food industry to try to implement the forum's recommendations, ahead of a meeting to be held in June 2008 at which they will report on their progress.

Nearly forty organisations have taken part in this initiative and it is a tribute to all concerned that the report has been published.

Take action

Download the Calf export stakeholders media report ( 211.79KB).

Find out more about our campaign to end the live export of dairy calves.

Here are just a few statements provided by participating stakeholders in support of this hugely important initiative:

Blade Farming Ltd/Southern Counties Fresh Foods Ltd

"We are one of the dairy farmer's largest customers for black and white calves and handle large volumes for beef production. The UK is not self sufficient in beef and these calves are valuable to industry.. Blade Farming has a unique supply chain and finishes calves from different types of dairy bred cattle. More recently we began working with Tesco on a UK veal system, which has really helped dairy farmers find an alternative market to live exports.

We are delighted we can work with dairy farmers and retailers to find alternatives to live exports."

Richard Phelps, Managing Director Blade Farming Ltd/Southern Counties Fresh Foods Ltd

British Friesian Breeders Club

"The British Friesian Breeders Club recognises the substantial contribution that CIWF and RSPCA have made in bringing together the main players in the food chain, in order to develop a route by which more dairy bull calves are retained for the home market, through their greater suitability for finishing. The Club looks forward to playing its part in the supply of suitable breeding alternatives, to ensure these quality calves."

National Beef Association

"At present the UK beef industry is only 77 per cent self sufficient and imports over 300,000 tonnes of beef each year to make up the gap between production and consumption.

If 150,000 -200,000 Holstein bull calves are reared within the UK each year instead of either being killed at birth, or exported to veal rearing units in other EU countries, it would increase domestic production by 65,000-75,000 tonnes and help to prevent the price of other domestic beef animals being undercut by discounted imports from counties whose production standards are often lower than our own."

National Farmers' Union (NFU)

"We are delighted to be able to support this initiative to develop value added markets and systems for dairy bred calves.

We have always argued that unilateral trade bans on welfare grounds are invariably counter-productive, because they shift a problem somewhere else, possibly making it even worse, rather than offering a genuine solution.

The key to reducing calf exports is to develop markets that will mean that the calves are worth more at home than they would be abroad. That way, everyone wins, including the calves themselves."

Peter Kendall, President of the NFU


"McDonald's is proud of their long term commitment in supporting British farming and strong track record in improving animal welfare standards. McDonald's is pleased to continue these commitments through their support of the Beyond Beef Exports Stakeholders Forum. McDonald's takes its role as a responsible customer seriously and hopes the recommendations of the Forum will lead to improved animal welfare standards for male dairy calves within an economically viable framework."


"This report is a major milestone in the work to find alternative outlets for excess male calves. The RSPCA helped to found the Calf Forum because a solution to the welfare problems has to work for farmers and supermarkets, if it's going to stick. The Calf Forum gives us our best shot ever because of the wide range of knowledge and expertise involved."

David Bowles, Head of External Affairs for the RSPCA

Soil Association

"The Soil Association is delighted to be involved in the Forum. We are determined to help find ethical solutions for calves and to support all those who are working towards this end."

Phil Stocker, Head of Food and Farming


"Tesco's commitment to farm animal welfare has been demonstrated by our participation in the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum. We hope that our new initiative will set an example of what can be done. As we've just announced 930 dairy farmers supplying milk to Tesco have agreed they will no longer export dairy calves. Instead the calves will be used to supply British beef and British veal to shoppers.

Tesco has developed a fully integrated system that links dairy and beef producers to make it easier for the calves to enter the UK beef supply chain. We know that the live export of calves to the Continent is a highly emotive subject for customers. This is an important welfare issue and independent research shows that the majority of shoppers want this practice to end. We are proud of our record on welfare and are pleased to be taking this important step."

Michelle Waterman, Agriculture Manager


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