An organic dairy farm in England, called Bath Soft Cheese, has come under fire for its treatment of animals, after an exposé indicated that the farm has not stayed true to its high animal welfare claims.
Animal Justice Project, an animal protection NGO, captured 273 hours of footage at the facility between March and September this year.
The footage showed workers physically and verbally abusing the animals, including slapping, punching, and kicking cows in the face, legs, and udders.
Staff also beat the cows with alkathene pipes.
“It is never acceptable to hit and kick farmed animals, particularly when they have nowhere to go, as viewed in this footage,” commented Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado.
“Cows can discriminate between people who handle them roughly and who are gentle with them. Thus, any form of abuse, even verbal, is likely to be remembered,” Bekoff added.
It’s a departure from Bath Soft Cheese’s animal welfare commitments; on its website the company notes: “Look after your cows and your cows will look after you.” This slogan is “at the heart of what happens here,” it says.
The cameras also captured the moments that calves are removed from their mothers, known as cow-calf separation. It’s thought to be the first time these separations have been filmed in the UK and released to the public.
In the videos, calves are pulled from their birthing pens with ropes around their necks at just three days old. This is slightly longer than the industry standard, which removes calves from their mothers at one or two days old, Animal Justice Project explains in a press release.
Cow-calf separation is extremely distressing to both mother and calf. Like humans, cow pregnancies last for around nine months, and mothers form “strong maternal bonds” with their babies just five minutes after birth, the charity says.
In the footage, mother cows and their calves can be seen bellowing after one another as they are separated. One calf cried out for more than 39 hours, while his mother seemingly tried to escape to find him.
Keeping up appearances
Upon separation, the organic farm’s young calves are taken to individual enclosures measuring 3x6ft.
According to Animal Justice Project, these pens were taken down for the dairy farm’s open day in August, whereby the public could visit the animals.
On this day, “much larger” pens were assembled and the calves were moved to these enclosures, the non-profit says. Four days later, they were transferred back to the smaller pens, which were never shown on open days.
Bath Soft Cheese maintains that it doesn’t keep calves in these pens for longer than two weeks. However, footage captured by Animal Justice Project found at least one case where a calf was held in the pen for 28 days.
The charity suggests this violates the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which states that an animal must be able to express their natural behaviors.
Veterinarian Dr Molly Vasanthakumar, who reviewed the findings, commented that “on this particular farm, calves are kept in individual small pens, with no contact to other animals other than through the bars. It is impossible to see how young, inquisitive animals are expected to display natural behaviors in those conditions.”
The slaughter of male dairy calves
Male dairy calves are considered a by-product of the dairy industry, since they cannot be used to produce milk. Consequently, around 60,000 male dairy calves are killed on farms every year in the UK, the press release states. Another 65,000 are slaughtered in abattoirs.
On its open day, Bath Soft Cheese assured visitors that none of its calves are killed under 12 months of age as they move on to the beef sector to be raised for meat. It’s a claim it also maintains to its stockist, Abel & Cole.
However, Animal Justice Project filmed more than a dozen Bath Soft Cheese calves on their way to, or at, a calf dealer by the name of Nicholas Pollett.
Pollett was filmed taking a double-decker animal transporter full of calves to an abattoir every week. On at least one occasion, 10-day-old Bath Soft Cheese calves were in the transporter.
Further, calves from the organic dairy farm were left in the transporter overnight without food or water before being taken to slaughter the next day.
“Bath Soft Cheese really is milking its ‘high welfare’ status. Footage captured on this multi award-winning organic dairy is in stark contrast to the image portrayed by the farm,” Animal Justice Project director Claire Palmer said in a statement.
“Callous kicking, slapping, punching, yelling and swearing at cows; the desperation and anguish of calves who cried for days after being separated from their mothers; and the pitiful individual housing afforded to youngsters for up to a month post-separation preventing play and other normal, social behaviours. A far cry from the spacious pens Bath Soft Cheese showed to the public,” she added.
“The shocking revelation that the farm sends calves as young as ten days old to slaughter is, Bath Soft Cheese claims, due to the herd’s Tb status. Tuberculosis, whilst a tragic disease, need not be an automatic death sentence for young, still-untested calves,” Palmer continued.
“The farm’s claims that male calves go off farm for rearing and are not killed under a year-old fall flat, it seems, when these ‘unviable’ calves can be sent to the slaughterhouse. This decision is likely to be an economic one, rather than one born out of necessity. It’s time the public saw the heart-breaking reality of organic dairy, and the hard truth about Bath Soft Cheese.”
Animal Justice Project has urged Abel & Cole and other retailers to review the new evidence and stop working with the farm immediately.