Geoffrey Hall, whose York- based company exports calves worth £26 million a year, said the animals benefited from the quickest possible completion of their journey.
"Calves are like fish," Mr Hall told Easingwold magistrates' court, North Yorkshire. "If you don't move them quickly, there'll be no calves left."
Mr Hall and six co-defendants pleaded not guilty to a total of 20 charges brought by trading standards' officers under animal health laws and codes of practice.
The prosecution claimed that surveillance of two consignments of calves revealed breaches of the law during September and October 1993.
The calves, aged between seven and 15 days, spent between 71 and 75 minutes at Mr Hall's farm near York after arriving from markets in southern England where they had been bought by Mr Hall.
The calves were then loaded into two-tier trailers and driven without a break to south-west France. The prosecution said the calves' treatment by Mr Hall, two haulage companies and four drivers was likely to cause unnecessary suffering, and failed to provide food, water and rest at suitable intervals.
Mr Hall told the court his company retained 46 agents to buy between 3,000 and 5,000 calves a week at 104 markets across Britain. Most were earmarked for veal production in France, and it was in the company's interest to deliver the animals in first-class condition.
Mr Hall said the consignments for which he had been prosecuted had not raised complaints from his customers, and the animals had been given liquid food before they left his farm. However, he admitted under cross-examination that he had asked the drivers to break the law by delivering the calves without a break.
Government regulations say calves should not endure more than 15 hours travel without a break of at least eight hours.
Richard Byas, a vet licensed to ensure government rules are observed, said he inspected the calves at the Hall farm for symptoms of dehydration or infection. He said the calves would not have left the farm if they were unfit to travel.
Mr Byas said his task was to implement Ministry of Agriculture measures to control the spread of disease, but he personally disagreed with Whitehall's code of practice on animal well-being during transit.
Recommendations for at least an eight-hour interval for calves to rest had been "forced on (the Ministry) by the welfare lobby", Mr Byas said. His experience was that 20 minutes was enough. Calves were likely to develop digestive problems. "The sooner they can get to their destination, the better," Mr Byas said.
Vets were licensed by Whitehall, but exporters, like Mr Hall, were responsible for choosing and paying the vets charged with authorising their shipments.
Philip and Ken Lane, hauliers from Retford, Nottinghamshire, and drivers Christopher Hagen and Peter Raynor, both from Retford, Michael Garrett of Doncaster, South Yorks, and George Buttle of Maltby, South Yorks, said they transported the calves in ignorance of UK law.
They told the court they knew the EC had set a maximum 24- hour journey time; they did not know the UK limit was 15 hours.
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