Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 18:08 UK

Calf cull follows TB export 'ban'

By Jeremy Cooke
Rural affairs correspondent, BBC News

Farmers are shooting up to five calves a day, say the NFU

Thousands of new-born calves are having to be destroyed by UK farmers after Dutch and Belgian veal producers boycotted imports of British livestock.

The unofficial ban began after a number of calves exported to the Netherlands were found to have bovine tuberculosis.

British farmers say they are having to shoot around 3,000 animals each week.

The government says it is raising the issue at a meeting of European animal health officials at meetings in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The unofficial action by Dutch and Belgian veal producers comes as yet another blow to British farmers still attempting to recover from the Surrey foot-and-mouth outbreak and the appearance of Bluetongue disease in the UK.

The problem has become more acute as farmers are in the middle of the calving season, and with nowhere to export their bull calves, they are faced with having to destroy them.

'Unusual incident'

Around 482,000 male dairy calves are born in the UK each year, but because they are unsuitable for beef production, they are either killed or exported to continental veal farms.

The Netherlands has become the prime market for British calves, but the country is officially classed as being free of bovine TB, so farmers there instituted their unilateral ban - without official sanction - following the discovery.

It is very upsetting to have them destroyed and is contrary to farmers' instincts
Gwyn Jones, NFU

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told the BBC that the case at the centre of the dispute was an "unusual incident" and that there had not been an issue with TB testing or export certification.

A spokesman said: "As a result of this isolated incident, Defra reviewed and subsequently sped up the tracing and notification processes.

"Defra has maintained dialogue with the Commission and European trading partners and this will continue at Wednesday's meeting and beyond."

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has confirmed its members are having to destroy calves, but argues that the UK needs to adopt new measures so that male dairy calves can be used to meet demand for British beef.

Gwyn Jones, chairman of the NFU's dairy board said: "We have to put down at least two and sometimes five calves a day, where they would normally go out for export.

"It is very upsetting to have them destroyed and is contrary to farmers' instincts, which are to keep animals alive and to do the best for them.

"There is also the ethical and moral issue of putting down perfectly healthy animals at a time when we are faced with food shortages and higher prices. It's madness."

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