Return To the Vile Veal Trade
A Meat and Dairy Industries Article from


Ros Wynne-Jones, Daily Mirror
May 2012

British-born male calves are once more enduring conditions condemned by animal welfare campaigners. Aged just two weeks, they stand in cramped pens after journeying hundreds of miles across the UK, over the English Channel and on to Holland.

Almost exactly a decade after Dover in Kent, Shoreham in Sussex and Brightlingsea in Essex were barricaded by protesters, the cruel cruel trade of live veal exports has quietly resumed.

British-born male calves are once more enduring conditions condemned by animal welfare campaigners. Aged just two weeks, they stand in cramped pens after journeying hundreds of miles across the UK, over the English Channel and on to Holland.

Confined to iron "crates", with no straw or bedding, they are fed only wet, milky food without iron or roughage and denied exercise, to keep their meat as soft and pale as possible.

After up to six months being held in conditions illegal in the UK, these animals will die in terror in poorly regulated abattoirs, destined for European and UK restaurants and supermarkets where they will be sold as "white" veal.

Covertly filmed abattoir footage shows calves being slaughtered by mechanised bolt gun while other distressed animals look on.
"People think that veal trade exports ended because of the cruelty," says Liam Slattery, of Compassion In World Farming. "In fact, it was simply a by-product of the beef export ban that followed the BSE crisis."
EU scientists agreed to lift the export ban on March 8. The live export of British calves to continental veal-rearing systems resumed under two months later on May 5. Now the Daily Mirror is joining forces with CIWF to highlight the cruelty of a system which could soon be exporting up to 500,000 calves.

In the 1990s, protests against live veal exports brought several of Britain's ports to a standstill, making world news with the death of campaigner Jill Phipps, 31, crushed under the wheels of a cattle lorry at Baginton airport near Coventry in 1995.

Campaigners opposed not only the longhaul transport systems and the conditions under which calves were kept and killed abroad but also the tender age at which the animals were transported.

"Transported calves suffer because their immune systems and bodies are simply not developed enough to deal with long journeys - leading to illnesses, infections and even death," says Rowen West-Henzell of CIWF. "At two weeks, they are too young to travel."

Investigators followed a shipment of around 1,000 calves from Camarthen livestock market in South Wales, where the animals are being collected by Anglo European Farmers Ltd.

According to the NFU website, the company aims to "provide a sustainable link between the United Kingdom and Mainland Europe for our livestock" and "increase the value of dairy bull calves".

Farmers pay a one-off charge - 3 for every cow in their herd - to join the cooperative, to pay for the ferries chartered by the company to ship the calves to the Continent. The first part of their journey was the 300 miles to Dover in silver lorries with ventilation holes through which the animals' eyes and ears could clearly be seen.

At 6.45am the calves then boarded the ship Toucan, chartered by AEF Ltd, arriving in Boulogne in northern France at 7.28am.

Investigators trailed the lorries for hours and 25 minutes through France to Dunkirk, into Belgium and finally - 600 miles from the collection centre - to Hoogblok-land, near Rotterdam in Holland.

Once in the veal-rearing system, calves are kept - as our photographs show - in conditions that would be illegal in the UK. The veal "crates" were made illegal in the UK in 1990. The confined calves have to keep still and don't build muscle. Crated calves abnormal behaviour - tongue-rolling, chewing at their pens, self-licking and hair ingestion.

They are fed a liquid milk-based diet deficient in iron and roughage to keep their meat pale and produce "white" veal. This can lead to anaemia and abnormal development of the stomach, which makes the calves prone to stomach infections.

Thanks to campaigning by UK animal charities, the veal crate system is banned in the UK and will be banned Europe-wide from 2007, and minimum requirements for iron and roughage will be applied to calves' diets.

But the system due to replace veal crates - known as housing" - still falls far short of the requirements under UK law.
Calves are kept in groups of four or five in sheds with slatted floors and no bedding. They risk injury from the floors and suffer the side-effects of stress and a poor diet.

"CIWF wants all calves to be given bedding, enough fibre and iron to be healthy and access to greater space, preferably outdoors," campaigners say.

"We will lobby for these standards to be applied throughout the whole of the Europe when EU legislation affecting their welfare on the farm comes up for review next year."

As the BSE crisis worsened in the 90s, live cattle exports were halted in stages, ending in a complete ban in March 1996. But now some dairy farmers see veal export as a lifeline in a precarious industry.

Because dairy breeds have been developed for optimum milk production, their male offspring are often deemed "undesirable" for beef. The resumption of the veal trade makes use of young male dairy calves which are otherwise almost worthless to farmers.

A National Farmers Union leaflet on Calf Exports claims: "450,000 calves were being exported annually from the UK to the Continent before the ban, and it is anticipated the trade will build up steadily to preban levels."

But, undercover filming in Holland reveals that veal producers there believe there is little future for British veal exporters as an influx of British-born calves will just drive down the price.

The UK government is uncomfortable about the issue, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says banning them unilaterally would be illegal.

The NFU has asked potential calf exporters to give written assurances that calves from Britain will be exported only to rearing units that comply with the new EU calf welfare regulations, and Compassion in World Farming is calling for live veal exports to be replaced by a trade in meat.

Anglo European Farmers, the company coordinating the return to veal trading, last night denied that exported British veal calves were suffering.

"A calf at two weeks old is a very fit, strong animal," said chief executive David Owen. "They are sent in lorries with water and fans. Calves are travelling to a welfare-friendly environment which is hi-tech and thermostatically controlled.

"We plan to take a party of MPs there soon to show how calves are being treated. We have nothing to hide."

These crated calves behave abnormally - tongue-rolling and chewing at their pens. The farming industry wants a return to the pre-BSE veal exports of the mid-90s. This would mean sending up to 500,000 British-born male dairy calves on long and stressful journeys to continental veal farms - many using systems that would be illegal in the UK.

Read more at Veal Production - Article Series

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