2015: European calf exports to Israel

The Youngest Victims

The Compassion Investigation Unit, in partnership with Animal Welfare Foundation and Tierschutzbund Zürich, has gathered new evidence to show that some of Europe’s most vulnerable animals are exported thousands of kilometres to Israel in appalling conditions. Hungry and exhausted, young calves travel across the EU to be loaded onto rust-bucket livestock vessels. Those that die at sea are often carelessly tossed overboard. While others, weakened by their journey, die shortly afterwards in quarantine.

Watch the investigation:

Please note the film contains scenes viewers may find upsetting

These calves’ journeys start in Hungary, Romania and Lithuania. In Lithuania we found calves awaiting export that were weak and even dying. Vulnerable youngsters like these are loaded onto livestock trucks to begin their long journey to European exit ports in Romania and Slovenia. On journeys like these we all too often witness fundamental breaches of legislation: in this instance animals were being deprived of food and water. The drivers were breaking the law and paid no regard to the suffering of their passengers.

Calf dying in truck

Calf dying in truck ©CIWF & AWF|TSB

As I climbed the side of the truck and looked through the bars my eye was drawn to a calf curled up, exhausted, in one corner of the truck. She looked just a few weeks old and was wheezing terribly. She was clearly in pain. But she was worth so little that no one would ever call a vet out to treat her. I felt desperately sad as I wondered whether she was yearning for her mother, from whom she had been separated not long after birth


On reaching the exit ports, calves and older cattle are forced up steep ramps on to rust-bucket livestock ships. They’re clearly terrified and baulk on the ramp – earning them a beating from the workers.

Livestock vessel being loaded

Livestock vessel being loaded ©CIWF & AWF|TSB

Once at sea, things get worse. Animal protection groups in Israel – Glass Walls and Israel Against Live Transport – have documented European cattle and calves washing up dead on the beaches of Israel. It’s commonplace for animals that die at sea to be tossed overboard.

There are no official records for how many of Europe’s exported animals die at sea, but one Israeli news story reported that the bodies of 32 calves were found on board one vessel that arrived in Israel earlier this year. Figures obtained by our Investigation Unit and Israeli group, Let the Animals Live, also show that calf deaths in quarantine facilities were routine for 8 out of 10 shipments arriving from the EU. In one case 21 cattle died. And the sad fact is that there will be many others that suffer terribly but survive.

Dead calf washed up on the beach

Dead calf washed up on the beach ©Glass Walls

A ruling by the European Court of Justice said that EU legislation on the transport of animals should be enforced from the start to the end of a journey – even once an animal leaves the EU. But our investigation shows that this ruling is being completely ignored.

Our Investigation Team found that those cattle who survive quarantine can be sent for fattening on squalid farms. These can be ‘lock-up-and-leave’ facilities, with minimal visits from staff. Cattle can be left to go hungry at times. And should an animal become injured or fall sick, there is no knowing how long it might take for this to be noticed.

Cattle in fattening farm

Cattle in fattening farm ©CIWF & AWF|TSB

At the end of all this suffering these creatures also face a cruel death. They’re taken to slaughterhouses in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank where our previous investigations have shown they can face brutal handling – treatment that would be illegal in the EU – and have their throats cut while they are fully conscious.

As I trailed young calves who were loaded straight onto a truck after 5 days at sea, I couldn’t escape the fear that their terrible journeys would ultimately have a brutal end: yanked by ropes to an inhumane death in a Gazan or Israeli slaughterhouse.


Share this page