Search icon

Defra hires QC to defend live exports of unweaned calves as legal challenge progresses

News Section Icon Published 22/05/2020

Leading farm animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming has been granted permission by the Scottish Courts to proceed with its legal challenge against the Scottish Government, this week (20th May).

In February, the charity launched judicial review proceedings against the Scottish Government arguing that it is acting unlawfully in permitting the transport of unweaned calves on export journeys longer than eight hours. The judicial review will now move to a court hearing, scheduled for 4th August.

Shockingly, despite the UK Government’s repeated indications that they wish to end live exports post-Brexit, Defra has now appointed a QC to contest the case.

“The UK Government claims they want to end live exports, yet Defra is defending this cruel trade,” says Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor at Compassion in World Farming. “This is hugely hypocritical. Rather than contesting the case – if they want to end live exports, Defra should be welcoming our argument that exporting unweaned calves on journeys over 8 hours is unlawful.”

The law states that journeys over eight hours are not permitted, unless after nine hours of travel the calves are given a one-hour break, provided with water, and fed with milk replacer. It is widely recognised – including in writing by the Scottish Government – that milk replacer can only be provided to calves if they are unloaded into an appropriate facility. However, in practice, the thousands of calves which are exported from Scotland to Spain each year are never unloaded during the one-hour break – and so are not fed.

Additionally, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Rural Affairs recently defended these unlawful exports, explaining that it would not be practical for the unweaned calves to be fed on the trucks. This defence was presented, not as a reason to end calf exports, but as a reason not to enforce the law.

Despite the Government’s failure to follow-through on their promise to end live exports, Compassion is optimistic the court case will have a substantial impact on the trade.

Peter Stevenson added: “Should the judicial review prove successful, it will set a precedent across the UK, making it impossible for the export of unweaned calves to continue in its current form. It may even trigger similar legal action across Europe and bring this unnecessary trade in unweaned calves to an end in many other countries.”

Judicial Review Progresses Press Release:

Download (PDF Size 0.27MB)

You are using an outdated browser which we do not support. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

If you have any further questions regarding this, or any other matter, please get in touch with us at We aim to respond to all queries within two working days. However, due to the high volume of correspondence that we receive, it may occasionally take a little longer. Please do bear with us if this is the case. Alternatively, if your query is urgent, you can contact our Supporter Engagement Team on +44 (0)1483 521 953 (lines open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).