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Beef crisis sparks debate over calf exports

News Section Icon Published 22/05/2008

News from the beef industry that Britain may face a significant shortfall in beef has sparked welcome debate over the fate of male dairy calves. Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA believe that the 'unwanted' male dairy calf could be the answer to the looming crisis in the British beef market.

The male dairy calf is currently either shot at birth or exported on long journeys to be raised as veal in conditions often outlawed in the UK. Exporting calves as young as two weeks old causes untold stress and suffering so by rearing the male dairy calves for British beef or veal, farmers and retailers would also solve a long-standing animal welfare issue.

Through the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum, initiated by Compassion in World Farming and RSPCA, we are urging the farming industry and retailers to solve their own crisis by reducing the numbers of calves exported.

Dairy calf - could be reared for beef

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming said: "Not only would incorporating male dairy calves into the beef supply chain avoid impending shortages, it would also prevent the price hikes that consumers are likely to face if no action is taken and reduce live calf exports, solving serious animal welfare issues.

"Male dairy calves have been treated as wastage for far too long and this solution offers an opportunity for change. Let's take it."

Why is the British beef industry in crisis?

Production of UK beef is set to plummet by nearly a fifth within a year according to Robert Forster, beef specialist and member of the influential Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum.

Analysing current industry statistics Forster reports that the significant fall in beef production is being triggered by a surge in Holstein inseminations in the dairy herd. This has been sparked by the European Commission's plans to remove milk quota restraints by 2015. The removal of milk quotas means that farmers are allowed to produce more milk so many are increasing their numbers of Holstein pure-bred dairy cows rather than rearing cows which can also be used for beef.

Beef cattle - British industry under threat

Recent figures show that the amount of beef semen purchased for insemination plummeted to 20 per cent from the more usual 40-60 per cent range, whilst the amount of pure-bred dairy semen, usually Holstein, has soared to 80 per cent of total semen purchased. Currently most purebred male dairy calves are either killed at birth or exported to the continent for veal production where welfare standards are often lower than what would be legally acceptable in the UK.

Prices for consumers are likely to rise as imported beef will not be able to make up the shortfall. There has always been a 20 per cent gap in the domestic beef market, which has historically been filled by Irish, Argentinean and Brazilian beef. However, Brazil is no longer able to export beef to the EU due to restrictions as a result of disease, Argentina has banned beef exports in a bid to solve political unrest and food shortages and Irish beef fetches a higher price further afield due to favourable exchange rates, hence not so much is being sold to British retailers.


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