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Major ferry company P&O has announced it will stop carrying calves to Europe following a BBC documentary called The Dark Side of Dairy.
The program (available here) showed how male calves are usually considered as by-product with no value, so animals are either killed at birth, or often sent on long grueling journeys overseas to be slaughtered. According to the ferry operator, these welfare issues raised by the program means it will stop the practice, with immediate effect.
But the Scottish National Farmers Union (NFU) said it was disappointed by the decision, branding the documentary ‘sensationalized’.
A statement released by P&O on Tuesday said: “We can confirm that P&O Ferries will cease co-operating 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.”
According to the BBC, around 5,000 calves were shipped from Scotland to Europe in 2017 – many at just three weeks old to be fattened before slaughter.
Welfarist group Compassion in World Farming put out a statement congratulation P&O for its stance on animal welfare, saying: “The calves suffer greatly during these long journeys. They are just two-three weeks old and far too young to cope with such protracted transport.
“P&O’s decision to halt its involvement in this inhumane trade will hopefully halt Scotland’s calf exports. We urge other ferry companies operating from the west coast of Britain to Ireland not to step in to transport these animals.”
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “Although the scenes are distressing there is actually no evidence to indicate that the Scottish calves travelling to Northern Ireland, Ireland and continental Europe were subjected to this kind of treatment.
“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: “It is disappointing to learn that P&O Ferries have reviewed their policies following this sensationalised and inaccurate documentary and we will look to work closely with them to see where members of ours who this will effect can go from here.”
He added that farmers will be writing ‘an official complaint’ to the BBC over the standards of its reporting, after the program ‘has already had an immediate effect on the agricultural industry’.
A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: “We stand by our journalism. The investigation was neither sensationalist nor inaccurate and has raised issues of public interest.”