There is great power in working together. This truism is highlighted no better than in the progress report from the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholder Forum. The Forum brings together the expertise in industry, retailers, farmers and animal welfare to agree shared goals for calf welfare. The underlying vision is to reduce the number of calves exported live or shot at birth in a way that truly benefits all within the food and farming industry. It’s an ambitious project. And, as the latest progress report shows, it’s working. The number of calves reared in the UK in the year to May 2009 increased by 61,000. That’s 61,000 calves spared long distance transport or an early death.
In years gone by, up to half a million calves would be exported from the UK to the continent. Many would be reared in the veal crate, one of the worst factory farm systems. Thankfully, our campaign was successful in getting veal crates banned across the entire European Union (EU). Despite the ban, continental veal rearing systems often continue to be poor. Added to that, scientific evidence shows that calves suffer when transported long distances. That is why Compassion continues to campaign for an end to long distance transport of animals.
When it comes to calves, we believe that British born calves should be reared on local farms using higher welfare systems. The work of the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholder Forum is showing that this is not only possible, but is being done increasingly on a day to day basis. Live exports have fallen from 96,000 in 2006/07 to 53,000 in 2007/08. Only 9,000 were exported in 2008/09, although this latter drop was due to a ban on the import of British calves by the Netherlands due to disease fears. During the same period, the number of male dairy calves retained on UK farms has increased from about 340,000 to 413,000. A welcome trend.
So who’s behind the Forum? Well, a quick glance at the Forum members on the back page of the report shows a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the UK food and farming scene. The National Farmers Union, National Beef Association, Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and Assured British Meats are amongst the producer and assurance groups. McDonald’s and Linden Foods are amongst the food companies, including the big retailers. Veterinary and academic institutions are joined by Defra (the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). And then there is the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, who chair the meetings and provide the secretariat. About 40 organisations in total, united in working together to meet shared goals.
The Forum has been meeting now for three years and works by consensus. The case studies presented in the progress report include quite stunning examples of major companies working to improve their supply chains and animal welfare. Detailed examples of best practice schemes have been submitted by ASDA, Blade Farming, Linden Foods, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. Like I say, almost a ‘who’s who’ of the food industry.
And the really important thing about the Forum is that all involved recognise that there is mutual benefit to finding humane solutions to the age-old problem of previously ‘unwanted’ male dairy calves. The report provides a huge amount of information for producers, farmers and industry on how to improve calf welfare, and how to make a profit. A clear case of the old adage, ‘it pays to be humane’.
By working with partners and seeking mutual benefits, we can find new ways to help improve animal welfare and stop the suffering of tens of thousands of calves that might otherwise be exported or meet an untimely death.
With your help, we can keep up the pace of change. Please help our campaign to ensure that every male dairy calf is wanted, not wasted.