The controversial export of live calves has been resumed, with 75,000 calves shipped to European veal finishers last year.

The trade, a by-product of beef exports, has helped boost average calf values from £20 a head at the start of 2006 to £37 now, said MLC economic and policy manager Mark Topliff.

But despite the absence of the mass animal rights protests of the early 90s, he expected exports to tail off because veal retail prices on the Continent did not reflect the cost of rearing calves. "Exports have not been so strong this year," he admitted.

About 1,500 live calves are currently being exported to Belgium, France and the Netherlands each week - half the number expected.

The trade is under further pressure because Tesco has told its 850 dairy farmers they should not export their calves unless there's no alternative.

"This important welfare requirement should lead to healthier calves," said a spokesman.