Pressure builds on Waldegrave over calves

Sir Richard calls for a British veal market, but the NUF and the Meat a nd Livestock Commission say consumers don't like the taste
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The Independent Online
A senior Conservative backbencher and former organic farmer yesterday maintained the pressure on William Waldegrave, the Minister for Agriculture, over his assertion that he had no choice but to sell his calves on to the open market.

Sir Richard Body, a former member of the Commons select committee on agriculture, maintained that Mr Waldegrave, whose role also includes that of minister for food, could easily take steps to create a market for humanely-produced British veal.

A second Tory MP, Sir Andrew Bowden, vice president of the League Against Cruel Sports, joined the fray urging Mr Waldegrave to either step down or ensure his animals are not sold for veal.

The latest broadsides in the row came as the pressure group, Compassion in World Farming, prepared to reveal further film evidence of livestock being ill-treated in transit, and on farms on the continent.

In this country, a small handful of farmers already produce veal which is raised in loose pens rather than the crates used for the vast bulk of French and Dutch veal, which were banned in Britain five years ago.

However, because of the tainted image of European veal, demand for the meat in Britain is minimal.

But Sir Richard, who produced veal profitably in a pilot project on his Berkshire farm10 years ago, said that the minister, the National Farmers' Union, and the Meat and Livestock Commission, could easily promote humanely-reared meat.

"It's absolute nonsense for Mr Waldegrave that he has no other choice but to sell the male calves into the market," said Sir Richard. "I can say that as an unwhipped Tory. It's perfectly feasible for him to create a demand for British veal."

Sir Richard argued that such a market would solve the problem of the male calves which are bred to keep cows giving milk. The British "pink" veal was also much more nutritious that European "white" veal.

However, the NFU and the Meat and Livestock Commission poured scorn on the idea, arguing that British consumers simply did not have a taste for the meat.

A spokesman for the NFU, which is currently examining the situation in an effort to find other alternatives to selling the male calves for veal-crate production, Sir Richard's idea was not realistic.

"Consumption of veal is very small in this country, so little is produced," he said. "This would be a chicken and egg situation. Which would come first? We couldn't go promoting something which doesn't exist."

The statutory Meat and Livestock Commission, which raises money for promotion on each animal slaughtered, was equally sceptical. "If we were to promote veal, our work would have to be cut back elsewhere," said a commission spokesman.

"But the fact of the matter is that the British do not seem to like the taste of veal. At the end of the day we can produce veal humanely, but the market has to be there. For that, there would have to be a great change in public attitude which doesn't seem to be there at the moment."

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