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EU acts on veal

Plans to phase out the use of veal crates throughout Europe are being prepared by the European Commission, writes Geoffrey Lean from Davos.

Franz Fischler, the new EU Agriculture Commissioner, attending the World Economic Forum, made clear his personal commitment to ending the "cruel" practice. "We must find a new and better way of bringing up calves," he said.

Mr Fischler, who brought in animal welfare legislation while he was agriculture minister of Austria, (which, like Britain, bans veal crates) said that officials started work on a new policy last week. He hoped that new regulations would be ready by the end of the year.

Last Monday EU agriculture ministers agreed to bring forward a review of the use of the crates, which are allowed under current European rules, from 1997, on the urging of William Waldegrave, the Minister for Agriculture. He wrote to Mr Fischler 10 days ago asking him to end the "abhorrent" practice.

Mr Waldegrave described "the overwhelming strength of feeling on animal welfare issues in this country" and added: "a wide cross section of the population remain acutely concerned about the welfare of farm animals. I believe we must act decisively to meet these concerns."

Half a million calves are exported from Britain each year to EC countries that use veal crates. The crates, banned in Britain in 1990, are too small to allow the calves to turn around.

Mr Fischler also said the EU is considering proposals to cut the length of time that live animals can be transported: at present under EU rules they can be carried for 24 hours without a break.