Julia Havenstein, ex student of the Master in Animal Law and Society of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and now legal advisor for Animals´ Angels, takes us behind the scenes of European livestock markets, in a very interesting documentary aired by the German channel ZDF: “Viehhändler im Visier” (by Vahid Zamani on PlanetE, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen). In front of the camera Julia takes us to Germany, Spain, and Romania to see the real conditions of the animals in the business and the status quo of European legislation and its compliance.
The investigation starts in Germany, one of the biggest global breeders and exporters of milk cows. Yet Germany does not always comply with all EU regulations on animal welfare. At cattle markets, where the finest animals are sold to buyers from all over the world, animals have to be shown off and attributes of each breed well enhanced. To this purpose, for example, cows are not milked – as they should before transportation and then every 12 hours as established by law – and their full udders are sealed, to avoid the leakage of milk. This way the “quality” of the cow and her “capacity” can be shown to bidders, although this is very painful for the animal and not only unhealthy but also illegal. Nevertheless international cattle markets represent a huge business: 360 billion living animals are sold all over Europe every year, but tragically about half of them end at the slaughterhouse because they are overbred and more likely to suffer from various diseases, therefore not suited for the diary industry.
And it is in Spain where many of these cows arrive to be sold to slaughterers. One of the markets Julia shows us in the documentary is the one in Torrelavega, where violations of EU regulation can be seen everywhere: from too many animals in one enclosure to no water, food, or straw available. During this specific visit in Torrelavega Julia and her Spanish collaborator, Alberto Díaz from ANDA (Asociación Nacional para la Defensa de los Animales), discover newly born lambs with their mother, which according to EU regulations should not be transported and when asking the local veterinarian why the responsible farmer has not been sanctioned, he backs away, not wanting to be filmed. Many veterinarians do know this is illegal, but look away because they are strongly influenced by the industry and, as Díaz says, “the pressure is very high; what is really needed is a new and positive attitude of farmers to comply with the legislation”. For animalists these markets are the set to many heart-breaking scenes, such as the sale of calves born in the milk industry, which are separated shortly after birth from their mothers and are therefore underfed, weak, and thin. These calves are highly unprofitable because the quality of the meat is too low, so they will be slaughtered after only 6 weeks and sold for the ridiculous amount of about € 20,- each.
The trip ends in Romania, where every week more than 230 cattle markets take place. The conditions of cattle in this country have never been exemplary so the question Julia wants to find an answer to is: has something changed since Romania entered the European Union? From the images shown in the documentary the answer cannot unfortunately be positive. The majority of Romanian cattle markets are the illegal scenarios of all sorts of animal abuses even slaughtering on the premises, violating numerous EU regulations, sometimes directly under the eyes of policemen and with no veterinarians to check on the animals. “Farmers are subsidized with EU money, – says Julia – the minimum we should demand is that they comply with the provisions regarding slaughter”. But the problem starts even earlier, with the transportation of the animals. As we follow Julia in her daily operations we come across a bad example of violation of EU regulations: a truck full of cows stuck in a snowstorm, with temperatures below zero, no more food for the animals, and iced drinking troughs. Although trips below 0°C are prohibited, trucks are sent on the road anyways without bearing in mind the well being of animals, rather the interests of the industry.
Unfortunately, from North to South, from East to West, all over Europe violations of EU legislation are a reality. We thank Julia Havenstein from Animals´ Angels and the German broadcaster ZDF for spreading awareness with their documentary and we hope this public denunciation reaches the competent entities, in order to take further steps to insure EU-wide compliance of animal welfare legislation.
Here the recap of the documentary
Here the full version