GAIA exposes cruelty towards calves in Belgium’s dairy industry


GAIA exposes cruelty towards calves in Belgium’s dairy industry

11 March 2024
In the dairy industry, cows are repeatedly inseminated to stay pregnant in order to produce milk. Their calves are considered by-products, and are taken from their mothers to be reared in lonely environments. Each year, over 300,000 calves are raised and slaughtered in Belgium.

GAIA’s campaign dives into the Belgian dairy industry, revealing how calves are badly treated, isolated, and reared in unhygienic and depressing conditions. 

Their video provides a glimpse of some of the biggest problems faced by calves:

  • Taken from their mothers only a few hours after birth, causing intense emotional distress to both mother and child 
  • Locked in tiny, individual pens for the first weeks of their lives, where they have barely any room to play, exercise, or interact with others 
  • Transported to fattening sheds two weeks after being born, while their immune systems are still vulnerable 
  • Fed unbalanced diets, causing sickness and digestive issues which then contributes to a filthy environment due to the amount of waste produced
  • Slaughtered while they are still very young

A closer look at Belgium’s cruel treatment of calves

Though cows have a life expectancy of around twenty years, a huge number of calves in Belgium’s dairy sector are sent to slaughter when they are only between the ages of six to eight months, cutting their lives incredibly short. 

Some are killed in Belgium, while others are transported abroad to be fattened and slaughtered - but around 12% of them die even before they reach the slaughterhouse, exceeding the average mortality rate for all livestock combined (3 - 5%), according to GAIA

These deaths can be linked to the poor conditions in which they are reared and the physical and emotional stresses of being transported alive.

Looking to a brighter future for calves 

In Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, organic farmers let calves stay with their mothers, or “foster cows”, for much longer periods than those allowed in Belgian factory farms - sometimes several months.

Change could also be inspired in the industry if there was a widespread dietary shift across Europe, which would have numerous knock-on benefits for animals, people and the planet in Member States and beyond. 

GAIA’s campaign re-emphasises further the critical need for the European Commission to deliver the full revision to the animal welfare legislation. Current laws for animal welfare are vague, unenforceable and outdated, allowing for farming practices such as those explored above that cause countless sentient beings to suffer. We need species-specific laws in place for all sentient beings to ensure their welfare. 

The fate of the EU’s animals rests with its policy-makers… so it’s important that those elected to the European Commission this year care about their welfare! Tell your local candidates that you’ll be voting for those committed to animal protection here.