It was heartening to see BBC Countryfile telling such a positive story about UK veal production in Sunday's programme. Veal has in fact been enjoying something of a media renaissance in recent months. Barely a week goes by without the EBLEX press office getting a call from a journalist wanting more information about veal sales trends and the potential of the market.
It’s hard not to feel like a pessimistic naysayer when explaining yet again that, despite certain encouraging signs, the veal market in this country remains very small with just 0.4% of GB households buying veal in the last year, and total sales reaching 125 tonnes. (To put this in perspective, the total market for beef and veal was 269,291 tonnes for the same period.)
In the UK, the industry has come a long way since veal crates were banned in 1990, but, as the Countryfile voxpops proved, many consumers remain unaware of these changes. While the power of a programme such as Countryfile (which regularly attracts six million viewers) in influencing the public should not be underestimated, it would require a massive sea change in popular opinion for veal to become a staple of British consumers’ shopping baskets. It is therefore likely that, in this country at least, veal will continue to be a niche market product.
There is, however, another option for dairy bull calves which has proved to be one of the industry’s true success stories, and which is all too often overlooked by the media. The majority of dairy bull calves (over 75% in 2010 according to official estimates) are already being reared for beef and in 2010 57% of the beef produced in the UK came from the dairy herd, a fact which would probably take most consumers by surprise.
Dairy bull calves are a necessary by-product of dairy production, and every farmer wants their animals to go on to live a useful life, therefore it’s not surprising that the industry has already come up with a solution of its own to this sensitive problem.
The media should be applauded for tackling the subject of veal head on, but without putting it in the context of the dairy beef market there is a risk that the public could be misled.