Ferry company P&O has said it will stop transporting Scottish calves being exported to Europe following a BBC Scotland documentary which raised concerns about the animals’ welfare.
The documentary titled Disclosure: The Dark Side of Dairy was broadcast on Monday 10 September and saw investigative journalist Samantha Poling follow dairy cows as they were exported through Ireland.
As male calves cannot be used by farms they are considered a surplus which Poling claimed led to a “dark trade”. To avoid them being shot at birth, they are exported and figures showed that in 2017, 5,000 calves were shipped to Spain and Italy.
The documentary showed two to three-week-old calves undergoing long journeys to Europe and sometimes being kept in the transport vehicles for up to six days. The calves were checked at inspection points as legally required but the truck transporting them passed a control point where the calves were supposed to be fed and rested and at this point, Poling lost track of the truck.
Poling later caught up with the truck at the port where the calves were to be loaded onto a ferry, and claimed the animals have been kept inside for 17 hours.
The documentary then revealed the calves in the truck were not the same cattle that were initially loaded on the truck as they were noticeably older. It was later discovered that the young calves were dropped off in Ireland to be taken to Spain. The driver of the truck is then seen poking the older cattle with a stick through holes in the truck.
Scotland is the only country in Britain to export young calves because ferry firms refuse to do so from English or Welsh ports.
P&O said: “We can confirm that P&O Ferries will cease cooperating with the Scottish government to transport across the Irish Sea young calves destined for continental Europe with immediate effect.We place the highest priority on animal welfare across all of our routes and were shocked by the scenes in last night’s documentary. We will not hesitate to act decisively and close the account of any customer which breaches our policies in this area.”
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick responded by calling the documentary “sensationalised and inaccurate” and said he was “disappointed” by P&O’s decision. He said although the scenes were “distressing” there was “no evidence to indicate that the Scottish calves travelling to Northern Ireland, Ireland and continental Europe were subjected to this kind of treatment.”
McCornick said: “The health and welfare of any livestock during live transporting is of the highest priority to everyone in the agricultural industry in Scotland and is something that we believe was not properly portrayed in the recent BBC documentary.
“The distressing scenes were those of cattle being shipped onto boats, which we have discovered were obtained in Romania and were Hungarian cows. The scenes in the Egyptian slaughterhouse were wholly unacceptable but again, there is no evidence to indicate that these are Scottish cows. Even the clips of the dairy calves in the market were not Scottish calves.”
He added: “Following on from the Disclosure documentary, NFU Scotland is writing an official complaint to the BBC in regards to the standards of the reporting involved in the documentary and journalism showcased in the programme which, disappointingly, has already had an immediate effect on the agricultural industry.”