Better Life hallmark

After an agreement in the past about giving calves roughage besides milk and keeping them in group housing instead of narrow boxes, the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals reached a new agreement with the VanDrie Group the largest veal producer of the world for further improving the welfare of calves. Amongst the agreed points are immediately providing a diet that keeps the blood iron level of the calves away from the danger zone of anaemia, twice as much roughage as legally compulsory and in the future a soft laying area and long distance transport in climate controlled transport vehicles.

For the domestic market even stricter standards are agreed on and the Dutch SPA therefore decided to grant its Better Life hallmark with one star to this Dutch veal.

Cooperation between an animal protection group and a veal producer may not seem obvious; nevertheless the Dutch SPA looks for it to work on a better welfare of the calves involved. As a matter of fact the cooperation between the Dutch SPA and the veal industry, more specific the VanDrie Group has a long history.

In the past each veal calf was confined in a narrow box for 6 months. Although they are ruminants they were kept on a milk-diet only. The Dutch SPA demanded group housing and roughage, but the majority of the veal industry turned this down stating it was impossible. Nevertheless on request of the Dutch SPA the VanDrie Group started in 1988 to keep calves in group housing and give them roughage besides milk. The largest Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn started selling the veal from these calves. This proofed that this is technically and economically feasible, the rest of the veal industry started to follow this good example and the Dutch and the European authorities decided to make roughage compulsory immediately and make group housing the legal minimum standard with a transitional period of ten years. So from 1998 of all veal calves in Europe get roughage and since 2004 in the Netherlands and in 2007 in the whole European Union all veal calves are kept in groups.

This enormous success was reason for the Dutch SPA to continue its dialogue with the veal industry especially with the VanDrie Group to seek for further welfare improvements.

In 2007 the Dutch SPA made a new appointment with the VanDrie Group laid down in an agreement in June 2008 containing amongst others the following points for all calves kept by the VanDrie Group:

  • A new blood iron management that aims at an average blood iron level of 6 mmol/liter and guarantees no individual calf will come under 4.5 mmol/l where there is the danger of anaemia. This is in line with the recommendation of the EFSA Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Animal Welfare of May 2006;
  • All calves get twice as much roughage as legally compulsory;
  • Work has started to research and implement improvements of walking an lying comfort;
  • In 10 years time long distance transports of calves to the Netherlands will only take place in climate controlled transport vehicles. This will prevent the calves from a lot of transport stress and keep them more vital.

On top of the above points for all calves the Dutch SPA made even sharper appointments with the VanDrie Group about the welfare of calves destined for the Dutch market:

  • Aiming at an average blood iron level of 7 mmol/l and guaranteeing no individual calf under 6 mmol/l;
  • All calves must have the possibility to eat simultaneously;
  • Transport of young calves to the veal calf farms may not take longer then 8 hours/250km;
  • Transport to the slaughterhouse may not take longer then 4 hours/500km.

Independent checks by Lloyds give the Dutch SPA the possibility at any time to see if the agreed standards are obeyed.

These are all great steps in the right direction. The stricter standards for the domestic market are reason for the Dutch SPA to grant its Better Life hallmark with one star out of three stars to the VanDrie Group its veal for the Dutch market. The so far very fruitful cooperation is surely to be continued.