2012: Live calf exports from the UK to Spain

In late 2011 Compassion in World Farming initiated a series of investigations into the export of live farm animals from the UK. And, in early 2012, generous donations from Compassion supporters enabled our team to continue the campaign, trailing a lorry carrying calves from the UK, through France and into Spain – simply to be fattened for the veal trade.

These young calves were loaded on a farm in the west of England and transported, over a period of almost 60 hours, to a farm in northern Spain.

Watch the footage from our investigations here

Please be aware this video contains scenes that some people may find upsetting.

The eyewitness account of an investigator

Warning: some people may find this account distressing.

In the early hours of a cold morning just a few days before Christmas 2011 I saw calves on UK roads being transported for export by lorries that were bound for Spain.

A number of these calves had nasal discharge and some of the water devices on one truck that was transporting them did not work.

I trailed these lorries to Ramsgate to see them board the MV Joline. This is a former soviet tank carrier that was originally designed for river transport, and it is currently the only vessel that exports live British farm animals to Europe.

The calves that survived the long journey would be spending their first, and only, Christmas in a Spanish fattening farm, hundreds of miles from home.

In early April 2012, thanks to the backing of Compassion supporters, I’d been able to head to Europe to investigate the other side of the live export story. I sat on the quayside in Calais awaiting the arrival of the MV Joline. Again, on return from this latest trip to Ramsgate, this vessel was transporting a lorry carrying a shipment of calves bound for Spain: A lorry owned by the same company as the vehicle I had trailed in December.

We receive information that the animals on board this lorry had originally come from Devon. This means their journey started in the middle of the night – and by the time they leave the port at Calais it is already 3.30pm. Again, as we were to discover, their final destination was Northern Spain.

This particular transporter was carrying 166 calves, but often there would be many more on board and conditions would be considerably more cramped. Even so, it looked like the calves were struggling for headroom. They were also trying to suckle each other – demonstrating how young and unprepared they were for this long journey.

It is past 8.30pm before the calves are unloaded at an official resting place. They are reloaded a little under 23 hours later – a breach of EU legislation, which states that they must be given 24 hours' rest.

The truck then continued south through the night, across France and on into Spain.

Late the following morning the calves arrive at a farm just north of Barcelona, Spain.

I watch the calves being unloaded. They appear to be unsteady and confused, which is not surprising after such a long journey. I also saw one calf being yanked by its tail to get it into the barn.

It is possible that these calves will be sent on to smaller farms in northern Spain to be fattened once they have been rehydrated but I had to leave the area to avoid blowing my cover.

We calculate these calves have been transported more than 1,100 miles, during a period of almost 60 hours. I am exhausted after this trail, and I simply cannot imagine what it has been like for these vulnerable young animals.


Investigating the live export trade is no easy challenge; in this behind-the-scenes video you can find out more about how we carry out our investigation work, and what it takes to expose the cruelty of live animal exports.

UK live animal exports must stop

Compassion believes that British calves should be humanely raised as close as possible to the farm on which they are born, and humanely slaughtered as close as possible to the farm on which they are raised. If transport is required it should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Long distance transport must stop

In fact, transporting any animal long distance for fattening or slaughter is unnecessary. Keeping hundreds of animals in cramped conditions in lorries and ships is completely unacceptable, and a maximum journey time of 8 hours is more than enough. Yet, every year, millions of farm animals endure journeys of days – or even weeks – across Europe and around the world.

Please consider making a donation to Compassion today. Help us continue the fight for EU legislation to enforce an 8-hour limit on journey times for animals. And help us lead the way towards tighter, properly enforced global regulation of all farm animal transport.

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