In December 2016 our investigators put a hidden camera up on a family-run dairy farm in Somerset after we received a tip-off about the poor condition of the cows. Nothing prepared us for the level of violent abuse we uncovered.
Our camera revealed several farm workers slapping, punching and kicking cows and their tiny calves – with one worker’s abuse beyond anything I could have imagined. Just 90 minutes after a cow gave birth he was filmed kicking her hard in the side and then directly in the face – while she was in a head restraint. He later turned his aggression to a pen of tiny calves, throwing one against the hard floor multiple times and kicking another seven times in a row. The swearing that accompanied this physical abuse was equally alarming and demonstrated utter contempt for these poor vulnerable animals who were in his care.
The farm owner told the media he was unaware of this cruel treatment and of course was horrified by it. There was an outpouring of sympathy for this farmer who ‘loved’ his cows and had no idea they were being abused. Yet we filmed the farm owner kicking a worn-out and lame cow, her back legs chained in hobbles, while ordering her to ‘get up you old bitch.’ The culture of any workplace comes from the top, and to this farmer – and all farmers – the animals are there for one reason only, to make a profit.
Just a few months later, in March 2017, we released footage from a calf-rearing unit in Dorset belonging to a Marks & Spencer dairy supplier and it shocked the nation. Not because the scenes were grisly or bloody, but because few people realise the scale of industrial dairy farming in the UK - and certainly do not expect it on an M&S farm.
Seeing row after row of baby calves alone in tiny pens — when they should naturally still be with their mothers — is heartbreaking. But we discovered that many of these calves were actually older females who, contrary to UK animal welfare law, had been confined alone in tiny pens for many months. Some were so big they struggled to go in and out of the plastic shelters and had raw, open sores along their backs from scraping along the plastic. And this cruelty was not just on any dairy farm, but on an M&S dairy farm.
The law recognises how vitally important exercise and social interaction is for calves and restricts solitary housing to just eight weeks, yet this is worthless if farmers simply ignore the rules. Again, the farmer pleaded ignorance and of course he ‘loved’ his calves. It was an oversight, an error, on his otherwise high welfare farm – and M&S agreed. He was not sanctioned for breaking the law, but helped to ‘put things right’ – making a complete mockery of our farmed animal welfare laws.
Labels and laws don’t protect farmed animals from abuse and suffering – our investigations prove this – but consumers can. With so many plant milks and plant-based cheeses, yogurts and ice-cream now available, there is simply no reason to fund the cruel and obsolete dairy industry. For tips and recipes visit http://www.loveveg.uk/