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News Icon 6/20/2024

The first thing we noticed was the smell. Following the "cowtainer" first by boat and then by car, the overpowering odor of young calves trapped inside a metal box for days was inescapable.  

A viewfinder on a camera shows a ship carrying "cowtainers."
CIWF investigators follow a container ship as it enters San Francisco Bay loaded with up to 1,000 calves in thirteen “cowtainers”. Photo credit: Austin Meyer / CIWF / WeAnimalsMedia

Compassion in World Farming’s investigators in Hawai’i had recorded the young calves as they departed the Port of Honolulu destined for the Port of Oakland in California. Four days later we met the container ship as it docked and tracked the calves to a feedlot in Northern California. Up to 1,000 calves made the grueling journey, facing rough seas and sweltering summer temperatures.

Tracking the Journey: From Honolulu to Northern California

We watched and filmed as the 860-foot vessel arrived with its cargo. Around thirteen 40-foot cowtainers were stacked at the stern, each capable of holding up to 80 calves. As the ship entered San Francisco Bay, two hours late on June 11, we sailed behind on a small boat underneath the Golden Gate Bridge to the Port of Oakland. There, we captured footage of the cowtainers being unloaded and transferred to semi-trailer trucks. 

A newly weaned calf pokes their snout out of a small opening in the shipping container they were placed in.
A newly weaned calf longs for fresh air following a four-day overseas journey from Hawai’i to the US mainland. Photo credit: Austin Meyer / CIWF / WeAnimalsMedia

Following two trucks that left in tandem, we had no idea where they were headed. As night fell, the trucks made their way north on Interstate 5. After two hours, they exited the highway and continued down rural roads in complete darkness. Around 11:30 p.m., the trucks turned onto a dead-end gravel road and drove off into the distance. We recorded the location and planned to return the next morning.

The Final Destination: A Northern California Feedlot

At sunrise, we resumed our journey, driving down the gravel path that led us to a feedlot filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of cattle. Three empty cowtainers, recognizable by their symmetrically rectangular windows, were parked nearby. This feedlot was the final destination for the dozens of calves we had followed up from Oakland the previous night.

A screenshot of an aerial view of a Northern California feedlot for cattle.
CIWF investigators followed two “cowtainers” from the Port of Oakland to this feedlot in Northern California, which meets the definition of a large or medium CAFO. Photo credit: CIWF/ Google Earth

Here, the calves would likely spend the next few months consuming forage from troughs and seeking shelter from the Californian summer sun, having only recently been separated from their mothers. Once they reached 1,000 pounds, they would be slaughtered and sold for meat.

Cattle stand and lay in the dirt of a Northern California feedlot.
View of the feedlot in Northern California where dozens of calves ended up having been shipped five days earlier from Hawai’i. Photo credit: CIWF

This investigation illustrates what our previous research revealed. Not only is the live export of cattle from Hawai’i to the mainland cruel to the newly weaned calves who are forced on these long and strenuous journeys; but they are also wasteful. While Hawai’i exports 95% of the calves born and marketed on the islands, it imports 90% of the beef consumed in the state. The calves travel one way, while the beef goes the other. This process exemplifies the inhumanity of live animal exports and why the trade must end.

We look forward to sharing the video investigation with you.


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