Slaughter scheme is 'open to abuse'

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The Independent Online
Allegations that agents acting for abattoirs are buying calves at auction have sparked fears that the pounds 80m Calf Slaughter Scheme is being abused as a money-making opportunity, writes Paul Field.

The Intervention Board, which is overseeing the scheme, has admitted documentation could be falsified to allow slaughter houses to increase profits from the cull, condemned by vets and animal welfare campaigners.

Under the Government plan, up to 500,000 new-born male calves, which normally would have been exported each year as part of the veal trade, are being destroyed. There has been no market for them since 27 March, when the worldwide ban on British beef took effect.

The Livestock Auctioneers Association, representing the cattle markets, confirmed that abattoirs or their agents had been buying calves at auction. At Cardigan cattle market in Wales, 50 calves were sold to agents on Monday, according to auctioneers JJ Morris.

Under the scheme, calves are supposed to go directly from the farm to the abattoir, which is paid pounds 103 per calf, out of which the veterinary service and the farmer have to be paid. These fees are agreed in advance.

To be eligible for the scheme the male calf must be less than 10 days old and fit to travel - vets are being used to approve calves for slaughter. But the 79 authorised abattoirs must give the Intervention Board three days' notice of how many animals are to be slaughtered, and calves cannot go to auction until they are seven days old.

However, an Intervention Board source admitted that although on paper fraud was not possible, it could not be ruled out. "There have been cases of calves going to auction and being taken to abattoirs for slaughter," she said. "It is difficult to see how it can be done but there are opportunities for fraud if someone is falsifying the date of birth either at the point of the auction or the farm."

The Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers rejected allegations that slaughterhouses were exploiting the scheme. "We are not enthusiastic about the scheme. It is to keep farmers going who sent their calves abroad for veal."

Although the National Farmers' Union dismissed the suggestion that producers could falsify documents, the British Veterinary Association condemned the scheme and urged the Ministry of Agriculture to oversee the paperwork. "Verifying records on farms should not be the role of local veterinary inspectors."