Compassion In World Farming, Ireland

FarmFacts: VEAL

What does Compassion in World Farming - Ireland want?

Irish calves in Netherlands veal farm

Each year, thousands of young calves are exported from the Republic of Ireland to veal production units on the Continent. Young calves are particularly poor travellers according to scientific studies, and Continental veal units can be intensive and barren. Compassion in World Farming - Ireland wants Irish calves to be reared humanely in Ireland as an alternative to exporting them to the Continent.


Veal is the name of the light-coloured meat from young calves. It is widely eaten on the Continent and is commonly found on restaurant menus in France, Belgium and Italy. Although not so popular, veal is sold in Ireland.

The main veal producing countries in Europe are France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. Irish calves are exported to veal units on the Continent, mainly to the Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Belgium.

There are different production methods for veal, some much more humane than others. These are discussed below.

Veal crates banned

The EU introduced a ban on veal crates in January 2007, making their use illegal in all EU countries. The EU law says calves up to 8 weeks old may be kept in individual pens where they can turn around and be in contact with other calves. After this, they must be reared in groups. Veal rearing is normally indoors, with no access to outdoors, and this is permitted by EU law.

Are Irish calves used in veal production in other countries?

Thousands of Irish calves are exported to the Continent each year, many for veal production. These calves are separated from their mothers at only a few days old. They are transported on long journeys when they are only a few weeks old, to veal production systems in Continental Europe, mainly the Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Belgium.

What age are Irish calves when they are exported?

Calves on their Long Journey Irish calves are exported to the Continent when they are a few weeks old. The Netherlands, which is the main destination for Irish calves, requires calves less than 35 days old*. Generally, most calves are less than 2 months old when they are exported to the Continent.
(*Irish Farmers' Journal, 28/8/2010)

What route are they taken on?

Typically, Irish calves face a journey by road to a port in Ireland, then a sea-crossing by ferry to the Continent (Ireland to France, which takes around 18.5 hours), and finally another road journey to their destination on the Continent.

Some calves may be taken on the 'land-bridge' route via Britain. This involves travel to an Irish port, a ferry journey to Britain, a road journey down through Britain, another ferry journey from Britain to the Continent, and then a road journey to the destination veal unit in, for example, the Netherlands.

Scientific studies have shown that young calves are poor travellers and are prone to becoming ill, particularly in the weeks following their journey.

What systems are used on the Continent to produce veal?

Irish calves in Netherlands veal farm After the veal crate ban came into effect, the intensive veal industry in the Netherlands (which is the main destination for Irish calves) moved to group housing systems. Many of these are barren indoor systems with slatted floors and little space for the calves as they grow bigger. The photo (right) shows Irish calves in one of these barren veal units in the Netherlands).

Are there any veal production systems that are more humane?

Humane group housing for calves

There are humane veal systems where groups of calves are kept indoors with natural light, plenty of straw and room to move around freely. The veal from these more welfare-friendly systems is usually called 'rose veal'. The photo (left) shows a humane veal system in the UK.

Compassion in World Farming - Ireland believes that humane veal production in Ireland would be a better alternative to exporting young Irish calves to the Continent.

What can you do?

If you eat veal, you could choose the type that has been produced in a welfare-friendly group housing system where the calves have plenty of room and straw to lie on. If veal is on a restaurant menu, you could ask them where this veal is from and how the calves were kept.

What now?

Compassion in World Farming believes that young calves should not be forced to travel long distances. Instead, we want the Irish Government to encourage alternative ways to rear these calves humanely in Ireland.

Home | About | Irish farm animal info | Library | Education | Contact | Site map