Tesco is courting controversy by launching an organic British veal line in a bid to capitalise on growing demand from shoppers for speciality products.
Despite ongoing criticism by animal rights campaigners of the use of calves for veal, the retailer is trialling a range of veal products under the Helen Browning brand - better known for its organic bacon. The veal will only be available in 10 London stores, but the product will be rolled out if the trial proves a success, according to speciality meat buyer James Renshaw.
"We're delighted to offer our customers the chance to buy British veal as we know there's demand for more speciality products," he said. "We're also looking at a programme to allow us to sell more conventional British veal in the longer term."
Rosé veal has become popular with shoppers since it was championed by Janet Street-Porter last year on TV's The F-Word, but most retailers still only sell imported white veal. British veal production has grown 50% year-on-year, and the sector is worth an estimated £2m at retail level.
Tesco and Helen Browning hope to assuage concerns over veal by stressing its high-welfare credentials. It was no more ethical to kill male dairy calves at birth, added supplier Helen Browing.
"The calf's mother will go back into the organic dairy herd producing milk, yoghurt and cheese. But what of the calf?" she said.
"The male dairy calf will never turn itself into a great beef animal, but good farming will produce superb meat from these livestock at a younger age. They live for up to eight months in high-welfare surroundings."
Consumer leaflets and in-store tastings will draw a comparison between lamb and veal. The Tesco trial will only account for a few hundred head of calves, but Britain's organic dairy herd could produce up to 20,000 bull calves for the industry if demand takes off.