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.

HELP US TO SHOW THE WORLD WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON!

Thanks to our team of investigators, millions of people are discovering the reality of abuse and cruelty in farms and slaughterhouses. Our work saves animals and needs your support.

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Salta questo step

FOR A REFORM OF ANIMAL PROTECTION LAWS 

Directed to

Presidente del Consiglio, Mario Draghi

Ministro delle Politiche Agricole Alimentari e Forestali, Stefano Patuanelli

Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare, Roberto Cingolani

Ministero della Salute, Roberto Speranza

Presidente della Camera dei Deputati, Roberto Fico

Presidente del Senato, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati

In recent years, Essere Animali has disseminated numerous investigations carried out inside intensive farms and slaughterhouses in Italy — some of which involved collaboration with reputable international media — in order to document the conditions of animals raised for food.

During these investigations, carried out by means of thorough monitoring using hidden cameras and workers infiltrated inside farms, violations of animal protection legislation and the regulations of the Criminal Code were carefully filmed.

Essere Animali investigations have revealed:

  • Violence inflicted by factory farm staff while handling animals or when animals resist treatment, such as blows with iron pipes, improper use of electric tasers, lifting “downed cows” using a forklift, and kicking and throwing small animals.
  • Mutilations carried out without anesthesia and analgesia, in the absence of a veterinarian and even beyond the age permitted by law.
  • Systematic tail docking of piglets, an illegal but widespread practice in almost all Italian farms.
  • Animals left to die of starvation or brutally killed by farm workers, without applying the correct guidelines concerning emergency killing of sick animals.
  • Group killings inside slaughterhouses, with animals witnessing the deaths of other individuals, and use of ineffective stunning practices.

Several complaints have been filed to the relevant authorities for these abuses, but the frequency of such episodes is worrying as they were filmed in almost all the farms we visited. These farms were chosen on a sample basis throughout the country, including suppliers of PDO products.

Alongside these legal violations, Essere Animali investigations have also shown breeding types and practices which, although now legal, are the cause of undisputed physical and psychological suffering for animals, including:

  • Use of cages in which animals spend much or all of their lives.
  • High density when animals are raised “on the ground” or in enclosures.
  • Surgical castration of piglets and debeaking of hens.
  • Baby chicks, which are considered useless for breeding purposes, are ground up alive.
  • Separation of calves from their mothers at birth for milk production purposes.

I am therefore calling for a process of legislative reform to be undertaken which:

  • Ban use of cages, even partial use.
  • Ban of any mutilation or killing of male chicks if they are perfectly healthy but considered non-productive by the livestock industry.
  • Stop public subsidies to the livestock sector.
  • Increase penalties for the mistreatment of animals and for other violations, including withdrawal of authorizations and disqualification from activity in the most serious cases.
  • Set up a monitoring system that is more effective than the one currently in use, for farms, during transportation, and in the slaughtering phases.
  • Reconsideration of stocking densities, permitting animals more space to move, even outdoors, and with the inclusion of environmental enrichments.
  • Provides for farming systems that allow animals to meet their ethological needs according to age and species, in consultation with animal rights organizations.
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