The suffering
of calves

on a farm producing
italian cheese

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We want new laws protecting animals

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This undercover investigation by Essere Animali documents the conditions of the calves on a factory farm part of the Grana Padano Protectioin Consortium, the most widely consumed cheese in the world. What happens to calves on dairy farms is shocking: they are separated from their mothers at birth and imprisoned in small pens.

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Download all the investigation’s photos

It is incredible that the current legislation still permits the isolation and confinement of new-born animals, as these are cruel and avoidable practices.

This is why we want to persuade the Italian Government and the European Commission to undertake a complete review of ALL legislation that affects farmed animals in Europe.

Cruel practices

Calves torn away from their mothers

At birth, calves are separated from their mothers and imprisoned in individual pens. They are dumped carelessly into a wheelbarrow and immobilised in an unnatural position, with one leg crossed around their neck.
The separation of mother and calf serves to facilitate the daily milking operations of thousands of cows, whose milk is thus destined entirely for the market or in this case also for the production of Grana Padano.
There is evidence that calves separated from their mothers at birth show behavioural and developmental damage, whereas calves that are raised in a group setting benefit in terms of both sociability and well-being.

Calves imprisoned in small pens

The calves are raised in pens as wide as their bodies and, in the absence of free cages, some are housed in pairs: as a result, they have even less space at their disposal.
There are hundreds of cages with calves located next to the shed that holds their mothers, with whom they will never have direct contact again. Some boxes have critical hygiene conditions, as many of the calves get sick and have episodes of diarrhoea.
Due to the infection pressure on factory farms, antibiotics are administered frequently. There is nothing natural about the way these animals are fed: they are mainly given a mixture of milk powder and water, surrogates of their mothers’ milk.

"Bloody male"

A new-born calf is insulted by one of the workers. On dairy farms, male calves are considered a by-product: unlike female animals, they cannot be reintegrated into the dairy supply chain and generate less profit.

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GRANA PADANO SALES DATA

Sources: Consorzio tutela Grana Padano 2021

The veterinarians' opinion

Prematurely separating calves from their mother is an abrupt interruption of the parental relationship, an important ethological behavior. This causes strong emotional pain for the mother and the calf, and this is demonstrated by their cries. The calves living in single boxes are deprived of the communicative relationship with the mother, which they seek as a basis for their ethological development, and this equally generates suffering. Feeding the calf with formula milk causes a lack of nutritional principles contained in breast milk and deprives them from their natural ethological behavior, since the liquid is quickly taken from the bucket and the need for sucking remains unsatisfied.
Enrico Moriconi - Veterinarian consultant in ethology, public representative for animal rights of the Piedmont Region
All the factors documented in this investigation cause stress and lower immunity, increasing the risk of disease and seriously compromising animal welfare with no opportunity for positive experiences or ‘a life worth living’ whatsoever for the animals involved.
Anja Dijkstra - Caring Vets, Association of Dutch Veterinarians taking a stand to improve Animal Welfare, based on the Veterinary Code of Conduct

This investigation raises the alarm about the conditions of calves on dairy farms. Unfortunately, the legislation allows for practices that cause significant stress and suffering to the animals. However, we will not lose heart; on the contrary, we have a great opportunity. In fact, the European Commission is now committed to the Farm to Fork strategy, an initiative that aims to make the European food system fairer, healthier and more environmentally friendly.

We want to persuade the European Commission to undertake a complete revision of the legislation on the protection of farm animals, which is currently seriously insufficient to guarantee them a life free of avoidable suffering. There are many of us! This is the No Animal Left Behind campaign, coordinated by Eurogroup For Animals – an organisation representing 82 animal protection NGOs in 27 Member States, the UK, Switzerland, Serbia, Norway, Australia and the United States.

The requests to the Commission include farming conditions that allow all farmed species to express natural behaviours, so that no animal is left behind.

For calves, we are calling for an end to the practices of isolation and confinement of newborn animals, specifically:

Allowing contact between the calf and his or her mother for at least the first eight weeks, during which the animals must be kept in a contact system for at least half a day with suckling permitted.

The provision of housing conditions that meet the behavioural needs of calves, which should be raised in groups and given access to outdoor areas.

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Salta questo step

FOR A REFORM OF ANIMAL PROTECTION LAWS

Directed to

Presidente del Consiglio

Ministro dell’Agricoltura e della Sovranità alimentare

Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Sicurezza Energetica

Ministero della Salute

In recent years Essere Animali has published several investigations carried out inside Italian factory farms and slaughterhouses, some realized in collaboration with important and influential Italian and international media, in order to document and denounce the conditions of animals bred for food to the Italian judicial authorities and institutions. During these investigations, violations of animal protection laws and criminal code regulations were filmed.

Essere Animali investigations have revealed:

  • violence inflicted by farm staff, such as blows with iron pipes on delicate and innervated points, improper use of electric tasers, lifting cows to the ground with a forklift truck, kicking and throwing small animals;
  • mutilations carried out without the use of anaesthesia and analgesia, without the presence of a veterinary, on animals over the age allowed by law, and the systematic cutting off of piglets’ tails, a practice that is illegal but widespread on almost all Italian farms;
  • agonising animals left to die of starvation or killed in a brutal manner by farm workers, without the application of the correct provisions on the emergency slaughter of sick animals;
  • animals transported for up to 30 hours in unsuitable means of transport, in distress and subjected to violence during loading and unloading;
  • animals subjected to group slaughter instead of being killed individually so that they do not see the death of their fellow animals, stunned in an inappropriate manner and with death occurring in agony.

Several complaints have been filed with the competent authorities for these mistreatments, but the frequency of such episodes, filmed in almost all of the farms under investigation chosen on a random basis throughout the country, even among suppliers of DOP products, prompts me to express my deep concern.
In addition to these law violations, Essere Animali’s investigations have also shown types and practices of livestock farming that, although now legal, cause unquestionable physical and psychological suffering to animals, thus intrinsically violating respect for the welfare of animals on farms, including:

  • use of cages in which animals spend most or all of their lives;
  • high densities when animals are reared ‘on the ground’ or in pens;
  • surgical castration of piglets and deboning of hens;
  • separation at birth of mothers from pups for milk production;
  • forced genetic selection, which produces animals with characteristics intrinsically contrary to animal welfare, such as fast-growing breeds.

I therefore call for a process of legislative reform that will:

  • progressively prohibits the use of cages;
  • prohibits all mutilation;
  • puts an end to public subsidies to the livestock sector;
  • brings about the tightening of sanctions for the mistreatment of animals and other violations of protection regulations, providing for the revocation of licence and banning from activity in the most serious cases;
  • establishes a control system on farms, during transport and at slaughterhouses that is absolutely more effective than the one adopted to date, with the use of CCTV cameras with AI systems and unannounced independent checks by public veterinary staff;
  • reformulates stocking densities, giving animals more space to move around, including outdoors, and adequate environmental enrichment;
  • ensures public funding for more sustainable food production and activities such as plant-based production and works to reduce the suffering of animals that will still be confined to slaughterhouses and farms in the coming years.
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