Pregnant cows regularly slaughtered in Netherlands, despite ban: report

Cow (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ Kumbayo). (Cow (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ Kumbayo))

Highly pregnant cows are slaughtered in the Netherlands several times a week, despite a ban on doing so. This involves cows pregnant with full-grown and viable calves in the 8th or 9th month of their pregnancy, RTL Nieuws reports based on figures received from Dutch food and consumer product safety authority NVWA. 

When a cow is slaughter, it bleeds to death. As a result, the unborn calf no longer gets oxygen through the umbilical cord and it suffocates. This year the NVWA issued 189 warnings and fines to farmers for sending highly pregnant cows to the slaughterhouse. This means that on average around 4 calves die in their mother's womb shortly before they should have been born. Since 2014 a total of 894 such warnings were issued. Every year 580 thousand cattle are slaughtered in the Netherlands.

According to the broadcaster, scientific research shows that by the last month of gestation the nervous system of the calf is developed to such an extent that the animal is able to feel pain. "The fetus reacts with movements if it does not get oxygen or is hit by a slaughtering knife", Frederieke Schouten of Caring Vets, an association of over 100 vets that speak out against animal welfare abuses in cattle and pets, said to RTL. 

Cows have the same gestation period as humans, 9 months. In the Netherlands it is not allowed to send a cow to slaughter that is more than 8.5 months pregnant. 

There are no legal rules about what should happen to the calves of pregnant cows who do end up in the slaughterhouse. According to RTL, most large slaughterhouses keep the fetuses apart so that the NVWA can check whether the cow had been pregnant for longer than 8.5 months. If that is the case, the farmer will get a warning. If it happens again, the farmer will be fined 1,500 euros. Eventually all the calves are discarded as waste. 

Since 2015 Dutch parliament has been discussing extending the slaughter ban so that pregnant cows can't be sent to slaughter from 6 months pregnant. The two previous State Secretaries responsible for Agriculture said they were going to arrange this, but never came that far. The current Minister of Agriculture, Carola Schouten, called it "undesirable that highly pregnant cows are slaughtered", according to the broadcaster. But she is not yet ready to implement a legal ban on slaughtering cows from 6 months pregnant. She first wants to talk to farmers about preventing pregnant cows being sent to the slaughterhouse, and better administration regarding pregnancy and awareness.