P&O Ferries has implemented an immediate ban on the transport of Scottish calves to Ireland for onward movement to continental Europe.
The action follows the screening of a documentary, Disclosure - The Dark Side of Dairy on BBC Scotland on Monday evening.
In the programme presenter Samantha Polling looks at the issues surrounding the export of male dairy calves and presents it simply as a choice between ‘shoot or ship’, without mentioning UK schemes for finishing dairy bred stock or the increasing impact of sexed semen.
The programme shows calves being sold at auction purportedly in Scotland but actually from a market in the East Midlands. Ms Polling then follows a truck load of calves through Cairnyran Port and then into Northern Ireland where she loses track of it before it reaches its first rest point.
When she catches up with the same truck leaving a French port several days later she takes up the chase only to find it now contains Irish cast cows which she then follows to a finishing unit in Northern Italy.
The programme’s contention is that had the truck contained calves they would have been destined for Spain, a journey which would have taken six days including statutory rest breaks.
The action then moves to an abattoir identified as being in Egypt and horrendous images of older cattle being slaughtered without stunning. There was no connection made between the scenes and Scottish born calves.
It seems nonetheless that the threat of adverse publicity has been enough for P&O Ferries, whose ships were shown in the programme, to pull the plug on future shipments to Ireland.
A statement released on Tuesday said: “ P&O Ferries will cease to co-operate with Scottish Government to transport across the Irish Sea young claves destined for continental Europe with immediate effect. We place the highest priority on animal welfare and were shocked by the scenes in last night’s documentary.”
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “The health and welfare of any livestock during live transporting is of the highest priority to everyone in the agricultural industry in Scotland and is something that we believe was not properly portrayed in the recent BBC documentary.
“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.
“NFU Scotland has the utmost faith in the Scottish Government and their Chief Veterinary Officer to ensure that Scottish dairy bull calves being exported are done so to the highest of welfare standards and regulations.
“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.
“Following on from the Disclosure documentary, NFU Scotland is writing an official complaint to the BBC in regards to the standards of the reporting involved in the documentary and journalism showcased in the programme which, disappointingly, has already had an immediate effect on the agricultural industry.”