Calf transport: how Wageningen Research serves the industry

Calf transport: how Wageningen Research serves the industry

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Study on shifting from transport of unweaned dairy calves over long distance to local rearing and fattening. Wageningen Research, for DG SANTE, March 2022

What is it all about? A scientific hotspot produces a study that does not answer the question posed, but is in the interests of a highly questionable industry.

The background is that the European Commission is proposing a new regulation on the protection of animals during transport – a painful area, well documented by NGOs and particularly distressing in terms of transport conditions and the immense distress of small calves taken away from dairy cows (given that these are intended to be milked to extract as much milk as possible). Around 30% of dairy cows are slaughtered each year and replaced. Every year, around 20 million dairy calves are born. Males and many females are not used for replacement and are left to the laws of the market. 1.4 million of these small calves cross borders in the EU, and 580,000 are transported for more than 8 hours. The major veal calf fattening countries are the Netherlands, Spain and France. France, along with Ireland, is also the country from which the largest number of calves are transported over long distances. At present, the age limit for transporting calves is 15 days. The European Commission is proposing to raise the age limit to 5 weeks.

The European Commission’s DG SANTE has taken the excellent initiative of commissioning a report on the transition from long-distance transport of unweaned dairy calves to local rearing and fattening. This is indeed the right question to ask (and not just for calves!). It would be a step in the right direction towards the relocation of livestock farming activities and more coherent systems. It would pave the way for small-scale, grassland-based production systems with a high level of animal welfare. It would prevent the spread of pathogens and reduce the need for antibiotics, while supporting the animals’ immune systems.

The study of such a transition was entrusted to Wageningen Research, a reputed institution supposedly oriented towards future solutions. The results are deeply disappointing. The authors do not even answer the question. They are scarcely interested in existing solutions and experience with local fattening, which they dismiss in a single sentence. What they are interested in is animal genetics and the “refinement” of transport conditions. It’s enough to make you think that the authors of Wageningen Research are close to the Dutch animal feed and calf production industry. In France, the Dutch integrators Denkavit and Van Drie are known for their veal calf factory farms, with total disregard for the needs and welfare of calves.

This is enough to recommend that DG SANTE be more demanding and more critical of the studies it commissions, and above all that it not give up on the idea that we need to get away from long-distance transport and relocate livestock farming so that animals can be born, grow, reproduce and die in the same place, ideally on the same farm. This is a fair idea, and we must defend it. The ethical challenge should be heard more clearly.

Let’s quote Albert Schweitzer: “I am life that wants to live, surrounded by life that wants to live…”.

Let’s add: “I am life that wants to love, surrounded by life that wants to love”. That means a lot to cows and calves.