ARLA has taken the lead on the 'nuclear bomb' issue of unwanted male calves on dairy farms, giving its UK milk producers notice that early slaughter will no longer be allowed in from the start of 2021.

Under the Arla UK 360 standard, dairy farmers are obliged to make the transition to systems that utilise male calves as dairy beef, and so doing, move away from the once common practice of euthanising 'bobby calves' at birth.

However, the firm is using the carrot as much as the stick, and has enlisted supermarket chain Morrisons in the effort, which is now allowing bull calves from dairy suppliers participating in the Arla UK 360 programme into its beef supply chain. The same farmers will also be able to sell bull and beef calves into the calf rearing units of Buitelaar Production, Morrisons’ beef rearing partners. Belgian and British Blue crossed breeds may go on to form part of Morrisons beef supply chain.

Morrisons agricultural manager, Sophie Throup, said: “As we work with Arla farmers making the transition to the Arla UK 360 standards we see the extensive efforts they are making. As we own our own abattoirs and end to end meat production, we saw an opportunity to connect the supply chains support our dairy farmers even more. Having worked with Buitelaar since 2009 on developing the dairy beef market, we already have a good working relationship to build on through the extended programme for Morrisons Arla farmers.”

Agriculture director of Arla Foods UK, Graham Wilkinson, said: “This move by Morrisons to open up its supply chain to further support our owners, represents everything the Arla UK 360 programme envisioned. Arla’s farmer owners see opportunities to evolve farming if we make a supply chain that works for everyone. This decision and the support through the supply chain with Buitelaar is the perfect example of how bigger change can be delivered in agriculture if we all work together.”

A Buitelaar spokesman said: “We share the view of Arla that every calf should have a value and purpose. With 30% of UK beef being imported into the UK, working across the supply chain and across both Beef and Dairy in this way could prove a big step in making Britain further self-sufficient in beef. Having recently received recognition from farm animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming and been awarded the Good Calf Award we’re confident our calf rearing units deliver the highest welfare and care for calves, so it is great to see industry leaders come together to rethink the natural links between beef and dairy.”

Dairy sector pundit Ian Potter commented that the Arla move might be 'costly and unpalatable for some', but noted that not one Arla member had complained to him about it.

"The complaints have all come from non-Arla farmers, some of whom are in complete denial that it is a potential PR nuclear bomb for the industry," said Mr Potter. However, he also noted that Arla has made no moves towards reflecting the additional cost of rearing calves to the point of sale in any of its retailer 'cost of production' models: "It’s down to Arla farmers to use sexed semen and/or change their breeding policies to produce a more valuable calf, which hopefully does not end up in an abattoir before its time."