The Dutch Animal Rights group Dier & Recht has lost a legal case defending the wording of some of its ads and now can no longer state that separating calves from their mothers right after birth causes serious animal suffering — perpetrated by the dairy industry. In early January 2022, an Amsterdam Court of Appeal upheld the Amsterdam District Court judgement on  23rd August 2021, ruling that the ads were unlawful.  

Dier & Recht is conducting a public campaign called “Quit Dairy” calling on consumers to stop buying dairy. It advertised it with three different posters in bus shelters in seven major cities in August 2021. In them, it stated that ​​the removal of calves from the mothers immediately after birth caused serious animal suffering, but the judges said that they failed to present enough evidence that this statement is true, and the damage of the reputation of the dairy industry could not be justified by freedom of expression.  

Like in any legal case, the specific wording was key. The accusation that the generally customary method of Dutch dairy farmers of immediately removing the calves at birth causes serious suffering to calves, and therefore that the dairy farmers involved are guilty of causing serious animal suffering, was considered defamatory by Agractie (which represents the dairy industry). Dier & Recht justified the wording saying the calves are isolated for weeks after the separation, causing fear, stress and illnesses, often ending in death.

The court admitted the calves have more health problems, but it was the expression “serious animal suffering” only linked to the separation from their mothers what the judges considered was “too much”, taking into account all possible suffering that a calf may experience in the rest of his or her life. The campaign has continued but with the “offending” statements removed in adapted posters on bus shelters in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Haarlem. Dier & Recht is considering further legal action.