On December 14th, 2023, a friendly meeting took place between three representatives of the VanDrie Group and a delegation from Eyes on Animals. The purpose of this conversation was to address the welfare of calves during transport from Ireland to the Netherlands. Eyes on Animals, along with other international animal welfare organizations, has repeatedly observed that European regulations regarding this transport route are regularly violated by various links in the calf supply chain. VanDrie is a key player in the European veal industry and acquires calves from Ireland to the Netherlands to supply their production of veal.
Eyes on Animals’ aim was to draw VanDrie’s attention again to the unacceptable practices surrounding the transport of calves from Ireland to the Netherlands. Unweaned calves are confined for about thirty hours on a livestock truck without being fed. The goal is to collaboratively and constructively find a solution to this serious violation concerning the transport of calves from Ireland. Eyes on Animals believes that VanDrie, as the recipient of these calves, is also responsible for and has influence over what happens to the calves during the journey. VanDrie Group argues that, since the journey begins on Irish territory, it falls under the responsibility of the Irish government.
In a statement on the VanDrie Group’s website, it is emphasized that the company is attentive to global concerns about animal welfare. Based on this, Eyes on Animals hoped for openness from VanDrie Group towards positive changes and taking seriously arguments regarding animal welfare and social responsibilities. This is urgent, especially considering that in a couple of months a large influx of young calves from Ireland will be coming again to the Netherlands (without being fed during transport).
The VanDrie Group informed EonA that they spoke to several parties involved in this trade, such as Board Bia and the transporters, about calf welfare. Additionally, the VanDrie Group stated that improvements were made at the control posts near Cherbourg port (France) in 2023 based on independent audits. We doubt this because there has been evidence for years that animals are violently mistreated at these resting places. To dispel our doubt, it would be commendable for the VanDrie Group to allow Eyes on Animals the opportunity to verify these alleged improvements on-site.
The VanDrie Group expressed its intention to objectively monitor and safeguard welfare during transport in the future. Eyes on Animals supports any idea to improve the welfare of animals during transport, provided it is implemented in practice. However, VanDrie Group’s actions so far have not prevented unweaned calves from being deprived of food for thirty hours during their voyage from Ireland to the Netherlands ! This is not only detrimental to the welfare of the transported calves but also completely illegal.
The VanDrie Group claimed that Irish calves are fit upon arrival in the Netherlands and that the health of the animals is good. Eyes on Animals does not know the basis for this claim. The notion that Irish calves would make a better impression upon arrival in the Netherlands compared to calves from German and Dutch (dairy) farming has multiple causes. Traditionally, there is a large surplus of unwanted calves in the dairy industry in Ireland. The country aims to significantly expand the export of young calves outside Ireland to deal with this unwanted surplus. Only the fittest calves are selected for export from Ireland. These calves sometimes receive an energy drink before export (considering they go up to thirty hours without food).
The claim that Irish calves are fit upon arrival in the Netherlands and that the health of the animals is good cannot be based on their “active” behavior upon arrival in the Netherlands. The energy drinks given to the unweaned calves only provide a temporary “artificial” boost. The fact is that the calves are denied necessary nutrition for 30 hours, leading them to hunger and associated suffering and stress.
Additionally, the Dutch veal sector is a major consumer of antibiotics (which are used also on incoming Irish calves). The antibiotic use is extremely high, prompting the Veterinary Medicines Authority to issue warnings in its latest annual report (SDA report 2023). The percentage of livestock farms classified as major consumers has been consistently high for years, with no sign of a decline. This is a cause for great concern for the SDA Expert Panel, especially since antibiotic use increased by 5.6% last year.
Eyes on Animals continues to advocate for ending the import of unweaned Irish calves because it is simply not possible to feed the calves while they are confined in a livestock truck aboard a ferry. Eyes on Animals also hopes that the VanDrie Group takes its responsibility seriously and respects the law. Shifting responsibilities to the Irish government and others is morally reprehensible. If the VanDrie Group claims to become a sustainable and animal-friendly company, it must do everything to prevent the animals they acquire from unnecessary suffering.
We hope for a constructive follow-up discussion with the VanDrie Group, in which concrete changes are made that are verifiable for all parties involved.