An influential forum of UK beef and dairy organisations, retailers and animal welfarists is backing a set of potentially far-reaching aims in a bid to solve the problem of the dairy industry's black and white male dairy calves.
The members of the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum, established in June 2006 after an initiative by Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA, 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.
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.
In their new report, which follows 18 months of intense research and debate, forum members have agreed to support and encourage a number of measures.
They include the development of economically viable outlets for the domestic rearing and finishing of male dairy calves and the development of technical and breeding improvements that may reduce the number of male dairy calves born and/or improve calf quality. The forum ,which has pledged to promote and develop UK and export market opportunities for home-produced beef and to encourage consumers to buy welfare-friendly British beef, will also push for high welfare standards for calf rearing in the UK and other EU member states.
The intention is that 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 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.
Jeff Rooker, minister for Food, Farming and Animal Health said: "We welcome the publication of this independent report from the Beyond Calf Exports Forum, which will help to create a sea-change in the industry's attitude towards male dairy calves.
"We are delighted to see the livestock industry and welfare groups working together to produce this ground-breaking agreement that will help to improve the welfare of male dairy calves while ensuring less waste of a valuable food resource.
"This is good news for farmers, consumers and the British beef industry."
* The forum includes representatives from: Assured British Meat, Assured Dairy Farms (ADF), Beef Production Systems Ltd, Blade Farming Ltd, Bristol University, British Friesian Breeders Club, British Cattle Veterinary Association, Centre for Dairy Information (CDI), Cattle Information Service (CIS), Compassion in World Farming, Co-operative Group, Cranfield University, Defra, Dovecote Park Ltd, Dunbia, English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), Food Animal Initiative (FAI), Freedom Food, Helen Browning Organics, Holstein UK, Marks & Spencer, McDonald's, Milk Development Council (MDC), National Beef Association (NBA), National Farmers' Union (NFU), National Farmers' Union Scotland (NFUS), Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo), Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), RSPCA, Sainsbury's, Scottish Agricultural College, Soil Association, Southern Counties Fresh Foods, Tesco, Trading Standards Institute (TSI), Waitrose, Westpoint Veterinary Group.