Netherlands imports over 15,000 calves from Ireland for veal industry

Netherlands imports over 15,000 calves from Ireland for veal industry
Calf, photo: Canva

More than 15,000 calves were transported from Ireland to the Netherlands in the first months of this year, 94% more than the same period in 2022, despite promises last year from the Dutch agriculture minister to ban long transports. 

The Netherlands is the largest importer of Irish baby cows, with most animals destined for veal production. 

“It is unheard of that the minister allows this extreme animal suffering to double!” Anne Hilhorst of Dutch animals welfare organization Wakker Dier said in a letter to the current minister of agriculture, Piet Adema. 

“Irish calves are only a few weeks old when they go on transport. The trip to the Netherlands takes an average of three days, of which the calves spend eighteen hours on a boat,” Wakker Dier said. “The animals are fattened in the Netherlands, and most of the meat is then exported again.”

“It is not only a sick system but also an unnecessary system. We drag those animals here for meat that we don’t even want ourselves,” Hilhorst said.

From Ireland to Holland
In March 2022, Dutch animal welfare organizations Eyes on Animals, Ethical Farming Ireland and EU parliamentarian Anja Hazekamp documented baby cows being transported in trucks to the port of Rosslare in Ireland.

The trucks then boarded a ferry from Swedish shipping company Stena Line for an 18-hours journey to Cherbourg in France. From there, the trucks went to the Netherlands. The young calves were on the road for 50 hours.

“At that time, they were only given milk once. That is disastrous for young animals who are completely dependent on milk and have an immune system that has not yet developed,” Eyes on Animals said.

After a long journey by truck and ferry, the young calves are kept and fattened in dark stables on hard floors in the Netherlands until they are slaughtered and processed into veal. 

Ban on transport
In April 2022, the then minister of agriculture, Henk Staghouwer, said he was “very concerned about the transport of these young calves.”

“Recent reports on imports from Ireland, with calves on the road for 50 hours with only one feed, confirms to me that these transports shouldn’t take place,” Staghouwer said. “I will continue the commitment to ban long transports of calves and other unweaned animals in the EU.”

“Not much has come of that,” Hilhorts said, as the number of claves transported in 2023 had almost doubled, with 15,646 baby cows taken from their mothers in Ireland and transported to the Netherlands.

Ireland has a large dairy industry. Farmers impregnate cows every year, so they give milk continuously. As a result, hundreds of thousands of calves are born every year. These baby cows are seen as unwanted by-products of the dairy industry. 

“Each spring, thousands of these very young animals are collected from Irish dairy farms to be shipped to fattening farms,” Eyes on Animals said. 

“Our inspections over the past few years have shown that this route from Ireland systematically violates EU rules on rest periods and feed. The result: many sick and weakened calves. It is not without reason that the use of antibiotics in veal farming is still high,” the organization said, adding that the authorities and the industry have tolerated the abuses for years.


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