Tesco has come under fire from dairy farmers following accusations it was allowing activists to dictate its calf rearing policy, rather than science.
The retailer recently updated its policy for the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group to state calves must be reared with at least one other from birth, with rearing in individual pens only permitted with veterinary advice.
Animal rights activists have been critical of rearing calves individually, accusing producers of running calf ‘battery farms’.
Cheshire dairy farmer and FG In Your Field writer Phil Latham said he believed the rule change was ‘nonsense’ and keeping calves in individual pens, within sight of each other, allowed farmers to measure their appetite and colostrum intake.
“We individually rear. When we know they are happy they go in together,” he said.
“This is just activist pressure leading to stupid decisions.”
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) could not state definitively whether placing calves together from birth or ‘from an early age’ was preferable but said good management was key with either approach.
Lambert Leonard and May Vets’ Den Leonard said there were challenges and potential benefits from rearing calves in pairs.
Infectious diseases could be a problem but Mr Leonard pointed to research which showed rearing in pairs improved growth rates and performance and ‘diminished some behaviours which could be interpreted as representing stress’.
“These may be the reasons why some milk buyers are insisting on this practice on their supplier farms,” he added.
“Many farmers have invested in single pen setups, mainly used for a few days after birth, reflecting sound research in terms of disease resistance. These systems often have successful outcomes, so sudden alterations in milk buyer requirements can seem unnecessary.”
A Tesco spokesperson said: “In consultation with members of the Tesco Dairy groups and leading veterinary advisers we have updated the Tesco Livestock code of practice to require all calves to be reared in pairs.
“This change is in line with the latest scientific evidence, showing calves reared in pairs, perform and socialise into adulthood better than those reared in single pens.”