Irish calves abused for dairy industry, shocking new investigation

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

A shocking investigation by RTÉ, the Irish national broadcaster, has revealed extensive animal abuse issues in Ireland’s dairy industry, including a grueling 61-hour journey endured by thousands of Irish calves to mainland Europe.

The documentary Milking It: Dairy’s Dirty Secret detailed the horrible conditions endured by calves of only a few weeks old on a journey from a livestock yard in County Wicklow to destinations in mainland Europe. 

Prime Time presenter Fran McNulty and his team tracked a truckload of calves. In a more than two-day journey, the calves were transported in cramped trucks with little to no access to food or water. The calves were found weeping from hunger and exhaustion throughout the journey, their condition deteriorating with each passing hour. 

Upon reaching mainland Europe, the calves were transported to veal farms in various countries, like the Netherlands and Spain. The calves, seen as valueless by-products of the dairy industry, were sometimes given away for free at Irish meat markets. 

Cows are impregnated every year for the dairy industry so humans can use their milk (which their body produces to feed their baby). Their children are taken away immediately: their male children have no value, and their female children are also used to become dairy cows.

The dairy industry’s growth in Ireland has led to a large number of calves, with the birth rate hitting a record 1.5 million per year. Around 200,000 male calves are exported to mainland Europe for the veal industry; the Netherlands is one of the biggest importers of these baby cows.

The disturbingly low value placed on these male calves was reflected in their treatment; the documentary shows the babies being kicked, slapped, hit with sticks, and even flung from trailers.

Animal welfare organizations Eyes on Animals, Ethical Farming Ireland, L214 and Ongehoord have in the past also reported on the extreme abuse male calves of only a few weeks old endure from the moment they are taken away from their moms in Ireland to countries in mainland Europe for the veal industry.

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