EFSA warns against intensive calf rearing veal systems

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued a comprehensive report on veal production, that warns of serious risks to livestock quality and health through intensive calf rearing systems.

EFSA's panel on animal health and welfare has listed probable risks, which include inadequate ventilation, exposure to pathogens causing respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders and others.

Less likely risks cited by the panel included insufficient access to water, unbalanced diets, poor health monitoring, iron deficiency and restricted floor space.

The report was ordered by the European Commission, which could use its findings for future proposed veal production welfare regulations. These could focus on hazards that EFSA has singled out as particularly harmful to calves.

Its report said: "The hazards of iron deficiency and insufficient floor space are considered to be very serious, the hazard of inadequate health monitoring is considered to be serious and the hazards of exposure to inadequate haemoglobin monitoring, allergenic proteins and too rich diet are considered to be moderately serious."

However, the panel called for more studies on these potential dangers, because there is currently "no consensus on the exposure of calves... mainly due to lack of data". The same applies to consumer food safety risks created by inherent dangers to livestock in veal production.

Meanwhile, following the lifting of the export ban on live cattle from the UK, European veal calf prices declined by 9% to E563 a head by the end of May, after peaking at E619 a head in week ended 23 March.

The EU average price had risen from the beginning of the year as a result of price increases in the Netherlands and Italy, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission. This was due to increased demand for veal as consumers abandoned poultry in the wake of avian flu in Italy. Since the end of March veal calf prices have fallen in all member states.

The veal market will have been influenced by the lifting of the export ban on live cattle from the UK from the beginning of May, MLC believes. Prior to the export ban in 1996, the UK exported 426,000 calves with France taking over half of UK exports.