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Animal Welfare

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 26 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what the Government's policy is on the export of young calves for slaughter abroad; (94264)

(2) what steps he is taking to encourage British farmers to rear calves to produce high quality British veal;

(3) what assessment the Government has made of the attitudes of the public to the export of young calves for slaughter abroad.

I am aware of the public concern over the trade in live calf exports; it is generating a high volume of letters to the Department. However, this is a lawful trade and European Union (EU) law must be observed. The United Kingdom (UK) cannot place a unilateral ban on the export of calves. All exports must meet the necessary animal health and welfare rules.

This Government are committed to the welfare of animals and have played a key role in improving EU rules on transport since 1996 when the export trade in live calves from the UK ceased. New EU-wide welfare in transport rules will come into force in January 2007 providing further improvements. We are seeking to encourage the industry to develop alternative uses for calves other than live export, and welcome the joint initiative from Compassion in World Farming and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to bring together welfare groups, the dairy and beef industry and the retail sector to discuss this issue. They hosted an event in July which I attended.

The industry has developed domestic veal rearing systems that satisfy robust welfare requirements, but the opportunities to sell the product in the UK are very limited. Conversely, dairy farmers are now driven by the strong commercial demand for veal calves on the continent. The Department commissioned a study to look at the economic drivers and potential for developing alternative markets to the export of veal calves. The report confirmed that the domestic market for home produced veal is resistant to growth. It did, however, conclude that there are commercially attractive opportunities for rearing dairy calves for the growing domestic market for manufacturing beef. This is promising and Defra will continue to play its part in encouraging such alternative uses.