Waldegrave defends veal-calf sales

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The Independent Online
William Waldegrave, the agriculture minister, yesterday fought off stern criticism from animal welfare campaigners after admitting that calves from his farm are sold abroad to be raised in veal crates, a practice banned in Britain.

Despite the outrage over the calf sales, which were revealed in the Independent on Sunday, Mr Waldegrave maintained that he had no control over the fate of the 200 animals once they went to market from his West Country farm.

But, in a BBC Radio interview, Mr Waldegrave again raised his concern about the practice of raising the calves in veal crates though he said it would be illegal to ban the trade because of the Single Market and it was up to European Commission to take action.

Campaigners who have been taking action to curb the trade, however, rejected the protestations of Mr Waldegrave, who resigned as a director of the 1,000-acre family dairy farm in Somerset when he took up his ministerial job.

Compassion in World Farming said farmers were not forced to supply the calves for the European veal crate industry. Joyce D'Silva, its director, said: "The minister, like all other dairy farmers, has got to take responsibility for the animals he breeds."

But Mr Waldegrave insisted he had no choice but to send about 200 of the 400 male calves bred annually on the 1,000-acre farm at Chewton Mendip to market because there was no demand in this country.

"It's impossible for me to guarantee that none of those calves go across the water to Europe and I expect some of them do," he said.

"That is a trade none of us, I believe I would be right in speaking for many other dairy farmers, none of us like and want to be stopped."

John Lucksted, the farm manager, said that no animals on the farm of 400 Friesians had gone to market at Winford 10 miles away for three to four weeks because the cows had not been calving heavily.

But he said the farm was examining the situation to see if there was any alternative to selling the calves, which may be as young as two days, but were on average two weeks. However, reiterating the point made by Mr Waldegrave, he added: "There is no real veal industry in this country. If the trade was stopped, they would probably go for pet food."

Villagers in Chewton Mendip were united in their distaste for the veal trade and the export of live animals but agreed it was unfair to single out Mr Waldegrave when it was common practice among local dairy farmers to sell their calves to market.

"I don't think calves should be exported, said Carol Curtis. "But I see that when William Waldegrave says he is selling them to someone at a market he can't know what they are going to do. I don't know how they can stop it.

Last night the minister's sister, Lady Anne Boles, was drawn into the fray as the manager of her West Country farm condemned the trade. Andrew Dinnis, manager of Rydon Farm, near Exeter in Devon, said slaughtering as close to the farm as possible was best for the animals and consumers.

"I think most farmers would prefer to do it that way. Most farmers are humane and always look after their stock.

"In my case it's the not knowing that I don't like. You look after them all their lives and then you may sell them on to somebody else who does not care." He said the export trade was also "not good for the health of the abattoir industry".

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