In A Strange Way This Still Doesn’t Solve The Veal Problem


At first sight this new sperm selection method will solve the veal problem. At second sight it won’t – perhaps, on the third it will again.

The veal problem being that a cow needs to have a calf each year if she is to continue to produce milk. Female calves go on to be milk producers – lovely. Male calves, well, these days, they get shot on Day 1. Because we don’t preferentially eat the meat of dairy cattle, it ending up, at best, the in the frozen gunk and therefore being of low value. Further, growing the male calf costs more than the value of the greater carcass.

Now, if we all agreed to eat veal again – pink veal, not milk fed – then this would not be so, the male calves would at least get 6 months or so of gambolling.

That’s the veal problem. At which point, a solution:

Japanese researchers discovered that sperm bearing the ‘X’ chromosome – which generates a female when it joins with the ‘X’ chromosome of an egg – carry molecules which when activated slow down its movement. When a chemical to trigger those receptors is added to sperm, the male ‘Y’ chromosomes power ahead, separating themselves from the tardy ‘X’s.

In mice sperm, when the fast swimmers were gathered and used in IVF, they produced litters that were 90 per cent male. Similarly, when the slower sperm was used, the litters were 81 per cent female. The team from Hiroshima University also told The Telegraph they had successfully used the technique in cattle and produced sex ratios of 90 per cent, although those experiments have not yet been published.

How excellent, we can now control the sex of the calf. Thus, presumably, fewer male calves for the immediate chop, the veal problem is solved.

Except, obviously enough, it isn’t. Because we still need each cow to have a calf every year. Even if all of these are now 100% female we still have that excess problem. Because we don’t in fact need twice the number of female calves we currently get, do we? And the economics of growing a dairy cow – that we don’t use as a dairy cow – will be the same as the growing of a dairy bull that we don’t use as a bull.

Think on it, a roughly static population of dairy herd. 10 year lifetime – not right but about roughly so – and thus 8 or 9 calves. At least 6 or 7 of those are going to be surplus to breeding and dairy herd requirements, aren’t they, whether male or female?

That is, the male specificity of the veal problem is only a selection method of dealing with the problem, it’s not actually the problem itself. Thus solving the male part of it doesn’t solve the problem itself.