The London department store Selfridges has stopped selling veal after an undercover sting by animal rights activists found calves being kept in narrow pens resembling the veal crates banned in Europe.
Several calves filmed at contract farms in the Netherlands, which supply British customers, struggled to move around in barren metal cages without bedding and have no contact with other animals.
Selfridges acknowledged that it had bought the cheap, low animal-welfare veal and last night removed the meat from sale. The store promised to start buying more expensive veal from a farm where the animals had the space to move around.
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) shot the footage of the veal calves at two farms in the Netherlands supplying ESA, whose meat is imported by its UK agent JF Edwards & Son, based in Smithfield market, the heart of London's meat trade.
Posing as buyers, the animal rights investigators were told by JF Edwards that, faced with low-welfare ESA meat or "higher welfare" veal from another Dutch company, some stores opted for the low-welfare veal.
Footage seen by The Independent showed the Dutch calves being kept in pens so narrow that CIWF said that they may have breached EU legislation banning veal crates, which keep the meat tender by preventing the animals developing muscle. They were banned in the UK in 1990.
The investigators claimed that the Dutch stalls also seemed to breach a legal requirement for the animals to have tactile contact with each other.
Although such farming would have been banned in Britain, it is legal to import and sell the meat.
"Apart from the legal aspects, I feel the systems shown are desperately impoverished," said CIWF's chief policy adviser, Peter Stevenson.
"They represent a cynical 'what's the least we can get away with' attitude rather than a genuine attempt to provide good animal welfare."
At a meeting on Wednesday, a salesman for JF Edwards, Martin Bass, sought to steer his two potential "customers" towards the higher welfare veal from another Dutch operator Peters Farms, describing it as "a very good system". Harvey Nichols, Tesco and Waitrose bought this meat, he said.
But he claimed that, after initially buying the higher-welfare veal, Harrods and Selfridges switched their order to the ESA meat, which is 30 per cent cheaper.
Harrods said that it now bought veal from a Dutch company called Ekro, after cancelling its order from JF Edwards in April.
Selfridges took immediate action after hearing of CIWF's investigation yesterday afternoon.
A spokeswoman said: "We appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention. We have stopped selling the veal immediately. Buying from suppliers that take animal welfare seriously is important to us. Because we take this matter so seriously we will be talking to Peters Farms from next week. Our buying team will visit this farm next week to ensure it meets the standards expected of our suppliers, because we have previously sold this product."
JF Edwards was unavailable for comment.
Farming under the spotlight
* Farmers must provide bedding for their animals.
* They must also allow 2 sq m for calves weighing over 150kg and 3 sq m for calves over 220kg.
* They must feed calves at least 100g fibre daily between 2 and 8 weeks.
* There is no requirement for bedding.
* Farmers must allow 1.7sq m for calves over 150kg and 1.8sq m for calves over 220kg.
* They must feed calves at least 50g fibre between 2 and 8 weeks.
Calves are social animals and should not be in individual pens, says Compassion in World Farming, which says they should be fed almost double the iron required by the EU, given double the space; and be allowed out to graze.