Mr Waldegrave himself is under growing pressure to halt the export of live calves for veal raising. The trade has been the focus of violent protests involving more than 1,000 demonstrators and riot police over the last week at the Sussex port of Shoreham.
The disclosure that animals from his own dairy herd suffer a fate that has drawn the outright condemnation of the RSPCA and other groups will beimmensely embarrassing for the Government and for the minister personally.
Two hundred calves from the Friesian herd on Mr Waldegrave's West Country farm are sold at market each year. Most of them, according to his farm manager John Lucksted, go to Holland and France where they are raised in crates, the system banned in Britainin 1990.
Mr Waldegrave said yesterday that he "stood completely back" from the running of his farm because of his ministerial position. Asked about the destination of his calves, he said: "Like any other dairy farm, they go to market, and you have no particular control over where they go after that." When it was put to him that most of them did go to the Continent he said: "Some may. Some may not."
Mr Lucksted, however, was more forthcoming. "It has recently been the practice for them to go abroad; they are mostly for veal rearing in Holland. We don't know specifically, but obviously some calves do end up in that way, in veal crates."
Mr Lucksted's wife Shimmie said yesterday she hated the practice. "I feel quite moral about the whole thing," she said. "I don't think it should happen, but when you work on a farm you have no control over what happens to them [the calves]. It's a hideous thing."
Asked if he had any plans to intervene in the situation on his farm, Mr Waldegrave said: "No. I stand clearly back from it."
The minister last week called on animal welfare groups to lobby Brussels for improved animal welfare standards in Europe rather than protest at British ports. He also urged farmers to co-operate with "responsible" groups. British consumers, he said, liketo hear that food comes from farms where animals are treated well.
His own 1,000-acre dairy farm has 400 prize Friesians which supply milk to the family cheese business, run by his elder brother Lord Chewton. The herd is jointly owned by Mr Waldegrave, his wife Caroline and his father Geoffrey, the 12th Earl Waldegrave.Lord Chewton will inherit the 3,500-acre family estate.
Male calves from the Waldegrave herd are sold at Avon Livestock Market and usually fetch between £140 and £200. But the local National Farmers' Union says that prices have collapsed since last summer, when the three main cross-channel ferry companies bowed to public pressure and withdrew from the livestock trade. A bull calf was sold for £4 last week at one of Mr Waldegrave's local markets.
A local NFU spokesman said: "There's not much of a market for male Friesian calves in this country. If you can't get them abroad, the price plummets."
Until recently, half a million British veal calves, some only a week old, have been exported to the Continent each year. Journeys, during which calves often receive no food or water, can last up to 60 hours.
Once in France and Holland - the main veal producing countries - calves are confined to crates which restrict their movement, deprived of natural light, and fed a milk formula low in iron to keep their flesh white. They are slaughtered at up to six months old.
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