Farm Ireland

Sunday 24 March 2019

Chief vet moves to reassure UK public on shipping of young calves

Sheila Voas, Scotland’s chief veterinary officer, stressed the ‘high welfare standards’ that were in place when animals are transported.

Chief vet Sheila Voas has insisted high animal welfare standards are in place when calves are transported from Scotland (Animal Equality/PA)
Chief vet Sheila Voas has insisted high animal welfare standards are in place when calves are transported from Scotland (Animal Equality/PA)

Katrine Bussey

Scotland’s chief vet has insisted “high welfare standards” are in place when animals are transported overseas, branding a recent TV programme about the practice “alarmist”.

Sheila Voas, who is Scotland’s chief veterinary officer, said she wanted to “reassure” the public on the issue.

Ms Voas spoke out after ferry company P&O announced it was halting the transportation of live calves from Scotland after the screening of a BBC documentary.

Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon however said she was concerned by that decision.

Ms Gougeon said while she was “shocked” by some of the scenes of young animals being transported in the programme, she stressed there was nothing in it “that suggested any harm had been done or there was any breach of any welfare standards by anyone transporting the calves from Scotland to Northern Ireland, Ireland or continental Europe”.

Writing in The Times, Ms Voas said much of the commentary around the practice “could be politely referred to as alarmist”.

The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a year’s worth of research to determine the effects on the calves of these journeys.

Ms Voas stated: “As Scotland’s chief veterinary officer I want to reassure the public that Scotland has a responsible dairy industry that cares about the welfare of these animals and is subject to the highest standards of welfare as regulated by European law.”

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She added: “There are a small numbers of calves being transported to Spain for fattening and production. These are male dairy calves which otherwise would have no productive purpose in Scotland.

“Some reports have distorted the reality of these journeys.”

Ms Voas said she had recently travelled to Catalonia to see a consignment of calves arrive, saying the animals were “bright and alert” when they were unloaded.

She added that while “typically the overall journey to Spain takes about 100 hours” the calves spend “more than half of this time resting or being fed, unloaded off their transport, at control posts”.

The chief vet said: “For the majority of Scots who enjoy milk and meat but want this to be produced as humanely as possible, I hope I have reassured people that we are committed to ensuring that livestock being transported are supported by high welfare standards.”

Green MSP Mark Ruskell raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions.

He asked Nicola Sturgeon whether the chief vet’s views represent the official position of the Scottish Government and urged her to congratulate P&O Ferries’ decision.

The First Minister said the issue was “more complex” than the impression given in some of the coverage and praised the chief vet’s clarity on the issue.

She said there is “no hard evidence” that the strict EU regulations on animal welfare are being breached.

Mr Ruskell later called for Scottish farmers to be given more support for ethical rose veal production.

Press Association