Killing 100,000 calves at birth concentrates the minds of Ministers, farmers and Supermarket meat buyers
When Sherpa Tensing was showing Edmund Hilary up Everest, the dairy farmers of the UK's fields were decorated with brown and white Aryshire cows, and bulky well built Friesians that would yield milk for 7/8 years. Milk yield per cow was in the region of 5 gallons of milk per day , plus a useful beef product at the end of it's life , there was also a thriving although small veal trade.
Now the milking herds which feed the supermarkets who control the domestic milk trade rely on the Holstein milk machines which can yield 120 litres per day, but may be so worn out they only serve 3 lactation cycles. The average Holstein cross cow now produces a lifetime 8,285 litres against just 4,000 litres in 1974.
These sedentary cows never see grass, they are kept indoors , fed (up to now) on the subsidised , but increasingly expensive grains that the barley barons have so effectively produced.
Cows need to breed to produce milk and a consequence is 160,000 male calves are born every year. Currently 100,000 or 2,000 a week are simply shot at a day old. Now that live exports restarted in May last year after the ten-year ban EU BSE beef ban the remainder are sent to the continental veal trade ( and fetch some £50 each - £200 before BSE hit the herds) where after removal from their mother at birth and shipment they are left a short (8 week) life fed, not on mother's milk but a high protein diet and a lonely life to prevent too much exercise and resultant growth of connective tissue (gristle) to provide the perfect pink veal cutlet.
Then the the foot-and-mouth outbreak in August stopped all live beef exports and the shooting of worthless day old calves made a quantum jump.
There is a small organic veal trade in the UK which forms 0.1% of the retail meat trade, almost exclusively to the Metropolitan restaurant trade.Now the Gubment want to boost this trade and A Beyond Live Exports working group chaired by Lord Rooker, the Minister for Farming and Animal Welfare, wants to develop a national production scheme that ensures the rearing of a calf from birth until it is ready for slaughter in optimum welfare conditions. "On the hook, and not on the hoof" is the PR mantra from DeFRA about this desire to change export policy on calves.
They working group identified two targets - the production of rosé veal, where calves will live outdoors, be fed on a mixture of grass and milk and slaughtered at 10 to 12 months. The other is for calves to be fattened on grass until they are 16 to 19 months, to produce young beef - which with the current obession with Holsteins is simply impractical.
Heather Jenkins, the head of meat buying at Waitrose is keen on their Calfline project to promote UK veal and Tesco are promoting organic rosé veal this spring.
Duncan Sinclair, head of agriculture at Waitrose, told the annual Semex Dairy Conference in Glasgow (13/15 Jan 2008) that the Calfline scheme appealed to consumers, because it offered a realistic alternative to exporting dairy calves to Continental veal units.
"The future will bring more of these schemes," forecast Mr Sinclair. ``Issues for consumers now include climate change and the impact of globalisation. Schemes built around a relationship between farmers and retailers add value to food and they certainly increase customer appeal," he said.
Duncan Sinclair is a bit of a conference groupie he is addressing British Cattle Conference, 2008 in hrewsbury today in on the subject The Native Breeds - Is it time for a revival?and you can catch him at Keele University on 5th February talking about - “A Retailers View of Sustainability” - you can also read about how Waitrose work with the beef industry here see pic.
It is interesting that the British Cattle Conference kicks off this morning with a presentation Reinventing Dairy Beef by Kev Bevan, Senior Rural Business Consultant, Scottish Agricultural Services - SAC Select Services, Auchincruive, Ayrshire email@example.com
The abstract in the program reads ..."The UK and EU have a structural beef deficit that is expected to grow in coming years with South American imports predicted to fill this deficit. This gloomy outlook, however, need not arise if new breeding technologies can be allied to enlightened supply chain management to lift the value of beef from Holsteins."
The Conference will also hear about the rising threat from South America Beef Production in Brazil - Threat or Opportunity? by Professor José Fernando Piva LobatoAssociate Professor of Beef Production Systems, University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. It is therefore interesting that two "workshops" will discuss, during the conference the propositions ;'This club believes we should breed a dual function dairy cow' and 'This Club believes we should breed beef composites'
Straw in the wind ?