Each year tens of thousands of Irish calves, exported to Dutch veal farms, are transported via control posts in Couville and Tollevast, Cherbourg. Here the calves have to be fed and rested for 12 hours, as required by Council Regulation 1/2005. Footage taken in March 2023 at Pignet control post in Couville reveals that the treatment of the calves is horrendous. The calves, having been deprived of milk for over 30 hours, are desperately searching for nourishment. They bawl loudly and try to suckle on everything – in the hope milk comes out. As 2,500 calves can arrive at the same time (the ferry can carry over 20 trucks, of which almost half of them go to Pignet) feeding them calmly is an impossible task. Dealing with the desperately hungry and thirsty calves who do not know what they are expected to do, under high time pressure, leads to frustrated workers. Like in previous years, workers and also drivers, can vent their frustration on the innocent calves. The footage shows calves being routinely beaten hard on their heads and backs with sticks and paddles, they are kicked, thrown over and dragged by their legs, ears and tails. Paddles and sticks are often lifted above shoulder height to increase force and pain onto the calves.
Once the calves have emptied their milk buckets, they are removed with force in order to make space for new calves. But even though the calves are repeatedly hit, many of them are still so hungry that they try to return to the milk troughs, facing further violence. As the feeding procedure is so chaotic and workers lose their temper and lack control, it is very likely some calves miss their chance to drink and do not receive any milk at all.
From previous years, in which we also observed severe abuse at Pignet and the Qualivia control post in Tollevast (one worker even went to prison), it is known that working under such time pressure with thousands of very young animals, is a precursor of frustration and violence. As so many calves arrive at the same time, many of them have to wait for several hours before they are finally fed.
The fault ultimately lies with the official authorities for approving these journeys (even though feeding intervals are routinely violated) and allowing the control posts to receive so many calves at the same time, resulting in frustrated workers and animal abuse. We also blame all industry partners involved, such as VanDrie Group (owning the veal farms in The Netherlands) Irish Ferries and Stena Line – who are knowingly and willingly continue participating in this trade.