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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 13:39 GMT
What is 'ethical' veal?
The Magazine answers...

The market for veal in the UK is very small
Supermarkets want us to buy UK-reared veal because the welfare standard of calves is much higher. But what is "ethical" veal?

It's safe to say veal has an image problem in this country. For years even hardened carnivores have found it hard to stomach.

It accounts for just 0.1% of the meat bought in Britain and fewer than one in 100 households buy and eat it, according to the English Beef and Lamb Executive. This is mainly down to images of baby calves packed into crates and being exported to mainland Europe.

But veal is making a return to the nation's menus and some supermarkets have announced they are to ban imported veal and promote the more "ethical" home-reared meat because the welfare standard of calves is higher. So what is better about it?

Calves reared in the UK have bedding, more space and a better diet
Calves reared for veal in the UK are legally required to have bedding, more space and a better diet. Conditions meet the welfare standards of both Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the RSPCA.

Marks & Spencer has already stopped selling imported veal and Tesco has now pledged to phase it out in favour of the British-reared meat.

Veal is a result of the dairy industry. Cattle are encouraged to give birth to bring on milk, but an estimated half a million male calves born each year are not needed by farmers and are mostly considered to make bad beef.

Mental distress

They are either killed or reared for veal. Largely unable to sell male calves for veal or beef in Britain, most farmers export them to Europe.

Those exported abroad are usually taken from their mothers at just one day old and undertake journeys of up to 100 hours to Spain and Italy, says CIWF.

Calves under 150kg - EUROPE 1.5m sq/UK 1.5m sq
Calves of 150kg - 220Kg - EUROPE 1.7m sq/UK 2m sq
Calves over 220kg- EUROPE 1.8m sq/UK 3m sq
Source: CIWF
The conditions they travel in are cramped and when they arrive they usually spend their short lives in wooden-sided crates which are so narrow they cannot turn round, it adds.

They often have no bedding and are forced to stand or lie on the uncomfortable, slatted floor.

They are fed a predominantly milk-based diet to ensure the whiteness of their meat. As a result the majority of calves tend to be anaemic and this method of rearing causes the calves great mental distress, says the charity.

British-reared calves have more space and flooring that allows them to move. They also have a dry, bedded area to lie down in.

Low demand

Another important difference is that they have fibre and iron added to their diet, which enables better development and maintains health. They also have access to natural daylight.

As a result of these differences the meat produced has a slightly pinker tinge to it and is known in the industry as "rose veal".

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

The farming industry and animal welfare groups say that buying British-reared veal is a way of stopping hundreds of thousands of unwanted calves being slaughtered at birth or exported to veal farms in mainland Europe.

"We support eating British veal if the calf is reared to the highest standards," says a spokeswoman for CIWF. "There are still some issues with veal reared in this country, but it is so much better than veal reared on the continent."

National Farmers' Union (NFU) also wants more people to buy it, saying in an ideal world calves would be reared and slaughtered for veal in the UK and the meat then exported.

It says the main barrier to veal calf production in this country appears to be low demand for it, rather than the higher UK standards.

"The more veal you eat in this country, the greater the incentive for farmers to rear veal calves here in Britain," says a spokesman for the organisation.

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