A SOUTH Lakeland farming family which prides itself on its animal welfare standards is reaping the benefits after putting its faith in a controversial meat.

Veal, or young beef, is experiencing a surge in popularity and the humanely reared rosé from the Mason family’s Heaves Farm, near Kendal, has been chosen for an exciting new product hitting supermarket shelves across the country.

While always regarded as delicious, veal has not always had a good reputation due to controversy surrounding the way the animals were reared. Veal crates and an unhealthy diet to keep the meat white were to blame for this.

Banned in the UK in 1990 and the EU in 2007 - the narrow crates prevented the calf from turning around and calves were sometimes tied by their necks.

But the Masons pride themselves on their excellent welfare standards, humanely rearing rosé - rather than white veal - which has now been chosen by Tanfield Food for its new Look What We Found! (LWWF) rosé veal and wild mushroom stroganoff in a brandy sauce.

It’s the latest achievement for a farm whose food is already stocked by the world’s most famous department store, Harrod's, and for diners at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir restaurant in Oxfordshire.

Roger Mason, who runs the farm with wife Carole and son Gary, said: ““Veal - white veal in particular - has had such bad press, particularly in the 1970s and ‘80s. We have rosé veal and there is a big difference with white veal.

“White veal is fed nothing but milk to 16 to 20 weeks old, and even by the time it is slaughtered it isn’t allowed any roughage - that’s why it was kept in crates so it didn’t eat any straw.”

“We say rosé veal is a welfare friendly meat. On our farm the animals have big open pens with straw bedding and there is always water and feed available.

“When they are eight months old they are slaughtered, because they become beef after that. At that stage they are three-quarters grown.

"Recently a team from LWWF visited the farm and they were surprised by how big these animals are at eight months. We get a lot of comments about how lean the meat is because it is very low in fat.”

Keith Gill, Tanfield Food sales and marketing director, was full of praise for the farming practices employed by the Masons.

“We are proud to include this wonderful veal in our new premium ready meal range. "Until recently veal has been one of the most under-appreciated meats in Britain, but through the efforts of farmers like Roger, and the endorsement of journalists and chefs, people are becoming better informed about British rosé veal.

“They are beginning to appreciate that they can enjoy rosé veal with its smooth, fine, texture and melt in the mouth flavour, in the knowledge it has been reared to welfare conditions that ethical farmers like the Masons are rightly proud of.”

As well as supplies their products in mail order mixed boxes through the stylish-looking website, designed by son Neil, the Masons provide their meat to local butchers through Irvings of Ulverston, Plumgarths, near Kendal, Dales Butchers at Kirkby Lonsdale, Higginsons of Grange, Tysons, Broughton-in-Furness, and Garth Steadman in Sedbergh.

John Turner, owner of Irvings, said: “It was very popular last year, and veal chop sales are doing well this year. I think people associate veal with how the animals are treated on the continent, being kept in crates and so on, but that is most certainly not the case here.

“Roger and his team treat their animals extremely well and the welfare standards are superb. It is important to try to get that message across to the public.”

The latest figures this year show the value of veal sales rose 55 per cent to £1.9m last year as the industry improves the supply chain and addresses shoppers' welfare fears.

For more information visit www.heavesfarmveal.co.uk