Every year up to 800,000 litres of foetal calf serum is produced. Approximately 2 million almost full-term calves must die. It is estimated that in Europe production takes place in about 25 slaughterhouses, but it is thought that there is considerable hidden production – one reason being that slaughterhouses do not provide information on this niche-production.
How is calf serum obtained?
A pregnant cow is slaughtered and the living foetus is cut out of her uterus. The calf is moved to a separate area, where a syringe is inserted into the foetus’ beating heart. Via a tube the calf’s blood is pumped by each heartbeat into a bag. As the foetus’ blood is removed, it dies due to the drop in blood pressure and lack of oxygen. The blood coagulates and is then centrifuged so as to remove any remaining red blood cells. The pale, transparent serum is the desired end product.
Is it painful for the calves?
It is generally well-known that cardiac puncture is very painful. In Denmark the Animal Experimentation Council requires that cardiac puncture of laboratory animals must take place whilst the animal is under full anaesthesia. An EU-report concludes that the physiological preconditions for foetal calf’s ability to feel pain are present as early as the end of the first third of gestation. As the gestation period for cows is 9 months, the calf foetus is physiologically capable of feeling pain from the end of its third month of development. The majority of foetuses used in production of foetal calf serum are almost full-term. From these, the largest amount of blood can be obtained.