BANNING the rearing of veal calves in crates and introducing a more humane system would have no significant impact on the economies of countries pursuing the practice, according to a European Commission study.
The internal assessment by the Brussels Commission found that banning both the use of crates and the force-feeding of calves on a liquid diet based on milk powder would barely affect the profitability of veal production.
Some senior officials in the Commission's agriculture department want to use these findings to put a proposal banning the rearing of calves in crates before European farm ministers.
They anticipate support for the proposal from the new agriculture commissioner, the Austrian Franz Fischler, who is likely to take office shortly after approval by the European Parliament, although some officials dealing with the beef and veal trade may oppose it.
This will come as good news to Britain, which is pressing for a Europe-wide ban. Angela Browning, the junior agriculture minister, is to tour European capitals in the near future to press Britain's view.
The Dutch meat trade said at the weekend that all 180,000 calves exported to the Netherlands from the UK can be reared in loose boxes instead of crates, if the exporter wishes.
But animal welfare groups yesterday cast doubt on the Dutch initiative, arguing that it could not be verified and did nothing to end the suffering of animals being transported long distances.
The Commission wants the debate on the Community's veal laws - which effectively allow the current system to operate - to be reviewed by EU agriculture ministers this year and a possible ban discussed.
The issue was not due for reconsideration until 1997, but officials now say that events in Britain have made a review urgent, although it expects stiff opposition from big veal producers such as France, where the industry is worth almost pounds 1bn. …