Vets put high welfare veal back on the table to help reduce surplus

Farming Life news
Farming Life news

Vets say that putting high welfare, UK veal and goat’s meat back onto the table could help reduce the regular killing of unwanted male animals on farms.

As part of a series of pragmatic recommendations to tackle the difficult issue of surplus male production animals, four leading veterinary bodies say that high welfare UK veal and goat meat should be promoted to help replace the need for the slaughter of unwanted male calves and goats.

In a joint policy position, launched today (9 October 2019), the British Veterinary Association (BVA), British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), Goat Veterinary Society (GVS) and the British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA) look at the issues associated with surplus male offspring in animals produced for dairy and eggs.

The position calls for solutions based on the overarching principle that quality of life should take precedence over lifespan, with the longer-term aim to move away from the production of unwanted animals all together. In the meantime, further research into solutions to reduce numbers of additional male offspring and to make sure that on-farm methods of killing surplus animals are humane, could be invaluable.

Current estimates suggest that around 95,000 calves, 30 million chicks and 3,000 Billy kids are affected per year. The dairy and egg industries have been advised to adopt a ‘3Rs’ (reduce, replace, refine) approach to the rearing and slaughter of animals which are surplus to the requirements of the specific industries. Reduction recommendations include selecting for sex (a technology used quite frequently within the dairy farming community) and increasing the length of time that an animal can produce milk through selective breeding. In the absence of these options, the position recommends raising male offspring for meat. Feeding into BVA’s #chooseassured campaign, this recommendation comes with the caveat that calves and billy goat kids should be raised within UK high welfare schemes only.

In the absence of any reduce or replacement options, veterinary experts advise that killing should be undertaken in the most humane way and that all the animal’s welfare needs must be addressed prior to slaughter.

In line with BVA’s sustainable animal agriculture position, this policy recommends that when animals are killed, every effort should be made to make sure that the carcass is used. For example, the carcasses of male chicks killed by controlled atmospheric stunning can be used in animal feed, such as for reptiles and birds of prey.

Commenting on the new position, BVA junior vice president, James Russell said: "Unwanted male production animals in the dairy and meat industries are an ethical challenge on a number of levels.

"Firstly, for the producer who may have animals with little or no commercial value.

"Secondly, for the consumer who may find the notion of these unused animals a difficulty.

"Our new joint position is based around the principle of ‘a life worth living’ and looks at ways that the veterinary profession can work with the farming community to reduce the numbers of animals that this affects and ensure that high welfare is always front and centre.

“If slaughter of affected animals is undertaken humanely, it is not a welfare harm per se, but greater measures should be taken to make sure that these decisions are made with minimal carcass wastage and an eye to the economic, emotional and environmental impact at a farm level.

“With greater public understanding of ethical and animal welfare issues faced by the industry, the promotion of farm assurance schemes and further research into alternative breeding options such as selective sex technology, we hope to reduce these numbers and improve the welfare of the animals involved.”

BCVA president, Professor David Barrett said: “The number of unwanted male dairy calves has fallen substantially in recent years, due in part to more efficient milk production meaning we now need fewer dairy cows to produce the same volume of milk, as well as the use of breeding technologies that mean we can select for female calves.

"Nevertheless, surplus males are still produced. Provided these calves’ welfare is protected they should become part of the meat production supply chain either as high-quality UK farm assured veal or beef.

“As we strive for improved sustainability and increase efficient use of resource in food production, we need to use every product from dairying, including calves that can be reared for meat.

"Our entire industry needs to work together to create a robust supply chains for high quality, farm assured British dairy beef and veal and we need to help consumers understand they should embrace these products.

"They are very different from intensively reared veal of the type produced in systems previously banned in the UK.”

GVS president, Nick Perkins said: “Commercial dairy goat producers have made considerable strides in recent years to address the problem of surplus male production which can be particularly acute in the industry as most dairy goats are naturally prolific breeders.

“The GVS applauds the progress already made but also commends the sector to pursue the principles of reduce, replace and refine further, through improved breeding techniques with genetic selection, and developing new markets for high health and welfare goat meat (a naturally lean red meat), while always ensuring any necessary humane destruction is done diligently and correctly to prevent avoidable suffering.”

BVPA junior vice president, Richard Jackson said: “The BVPA is committed to ensuring that animal welfare is at the heart of all that we do. We continue to work with poultry keepers, commercial and research organisations and government to ensure high standards of flock health and welfare are maintained and developed, including on the issue of surplus male production animals.”