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RTÉ Investigates reveals major Animal Welfare breaches for Irish Dairy Calves

Young dairy calves being kicked at an Irish Mart captured by undercover filming

Young dairy calves being kicked at an Irish Mart captured by undercover filming

RTÉ's Fran McNulty investigates the underside of Ireland's dairy boom where the success of a multi-billion euro industry often comes at the expense of animal welfare in a shocking documentary to be broadcast this Monday night on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player. 

A big push on milk production means that one and a half million dairy calves are born in Ireland every year. They are born so that the cows continue to produce milk. Around half a million of the calves born are male, many of lower grade quality aren’t suitable to be reared for beef, so they are virtually valueless and end up being slaughtered on farm, in meat factories or being exported as veal to mainland Europe.

Monday night’s investigation shows how at some mart sales animals couldn’t even be given away free of charge such is the oversupply of calves at peak points in the calving season, which is for a short six-eight week period in spring and also in autumn.

RTÉ Investigates found that the poor treatment of bull calves, often regarded as worthless, reflects their lowly status in the Irish dairy industry. 

Irish dairy calves filmed on a ferry to France

Irish dairy calves filmed on a ferry to France

Over a number of weeks RTÉ Investigates filmed at several Irish marts and saw some handlers treat young calves capably and with respect. But others, including mart workers, farmers and transporters, showed a blatant disregard for animal welfare.  

Undercover filming captured what appeared to be serious breaches of animal welfare. Monday night's shocking documentary will show examples of slapping, striking and kicking of animals, all prohibited by law, as well as throwing them mid-air which is regarded as a serious breach of animal welfare.  

Under EU regulations, sticks are not permitted for use on young calves and a calf’s ears or tail, which is sensitive and can break, should not be twisted or pulled yet undercover footage shows occurrences of these by mart staff, by farmers and by transporters in Ireland. 

Irish dairy calf being transport on a truck

Irish dairy calf being transport on a truck

The programme also features a recent sharp increase in baby calves being delivered for slaughter to meat processing plants. Over a seven-day period, RTÉ Investigates observed dozens of trucks deliver calves for slaughter to a meat plant in Co Limerick.

Most were just a few weeks old. Both farmers delivering there, and the factory itself confirmed to RTÉ Investigates there would be no payment for the animals.

According to the Department of Agriculture’s own figures, close to 30,000, mostly young bull calves, were slaughtered at meat factories in Ireland so far this year. The programme also investigates the journey taken by some of the 200,000 bull calves exported from Ireland every year to be fattened on veal farms in mainland Europe.

The team visits farms in Spain, Holland and Poland, where several dead calves with Irish identification tags were found by the investigation team. The export of calves to the continent is a €170 million industry which see some ferries out of Irish ports carrying up to 3,000 calves in one sailing.

Two dead Irish dairy calves being collected for disposal after arriving overnight in France

Two dead Irish dairy calves being collected for disposal after arriving overnight in France

RTÉ Investigates sets out to see how the export system works. Following a truck with Irish calves from Wicklow late afternoon, first on to Rosslare Port where with other calf transporters, some with trailers board the 9pm ferry for Cherbourg. The animals must remain inside the trucks for the entire journey.

Aboard the trucks they have no access to milk.  

RTÉ Investigates filmed below deck, where most of the calves were about three-to-four weeks old. On arrival in Cherbourg the calves are unloaded, will be fed milk replacer and taken in for the night. Having made the mandatory 12-hour rest overnight the truck fills up and the driver heads south, crosses the border into Spain before arriving into a veal farm near Barcelona. 

At 4.57 am the calves, which left Wicklow, two and a half days ago, are unloaded. They and the RTÉ Investigates team had been on the road for 18 ½ hours continuously, with only short breaks.   

RTÉ Investigates - Milking It: Dairy's Dirty Secret  is by RTÉ Prime Time presenter and former Agricultural Correspondent Fran McNulty and producer/director Frank Shouldice. It is filmed by Matt Naughton. The award-winning journalists spent over five months investigating the story, filming through calving season and interviewed a wide range of contributors for the must-watch documentary.    

RTÉ Investigates - Milking it: Dairy's Dirty Secret will be broadcast tomorrow, Monday 10th July at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player worldwide.  


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