Ferry operator P&O has announced it will stop carrying live calves to Europe with immediate effect after welfare concerns were raised by a television documentary.
The firm took the decision following the broadcast of the BBC programme “Disclosure: The Dark Side of Dairy”.
The documentary tracked the export of young calves to Europe via the port of Cairnryan in Dumfries and Galloway. From there the animals are transported to Larne in Northern Ireland, through the Irish Republic to mainland Europe.
Campaigners against the practice believe the long journey is harmful to the calves and their mothers but industry figures say the alternative is for the youngsters to be shot at birth.
As long as exporters and hauliers abide by regulations governing the trade, the business is legal.
The findings of the programme were brought up at Holyrood yesterday where rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon raised concerns about the firm’s decision. Ms Gougeon insisted the issue of shipping animals overseas was “not as black and white” as critics suggested.
However she stressed she was keen to “find a positive way forward” and find an alternative for male calves born into dairy herds – who are either shot at birth or separated from their mothers and sold overseas.
Ms Gougeon told MSPs that P&O “confirmed they will no longer be transporting live calves from Scotland which are destined for continental Europe” after the screening of a BBC documentary.
But she said while she was “shocked” by some of the scenes of young animals being transported in the programme, she added: “I have to emphasise there wasn’t anything in that that suggested any harm had been done or there was any breach of any welfare standards by anyone transporting the calves.
“So I am concerned about the decision which has been reached by P&O,” she added.
SNP MSP Christine Grahame said there “remains widespread concern about the removal of bull calves, weeks old, from their mothers, distressing for both, and transporting them for some cases over six days”
Labour MSP Claudia Beamish also said: “Surely the only way to stop this is to ban live exports, as Scottish Labour and other opposition parties such as the Greens think we should be doing.”
Green MSP Mark Ruskell welcomed P&O’s decision, saying the ferry firm had shown “more backbone” than the Scottish Government on the issue of animal welfare.
He stated: “The firm line being taken by P&O after I contacted them shows that a private ferry operator has more backbone than the SNP Government. Live animal exports is an issue the public care deeply about, and Nicola Sturgeon’s ministers are complicit in animal cruelty.”
But Conservative MSP Edward Mountain, a former farmer, insisted the programme broadcast did not “accurately reflect the high standards within the industry in Scotland.”