Live export ban would ‘annihilate’ Irish farming as we know it

Published by Niall Sargent on

February 12th, 2019

Calls from animal welfare groups to ban the live export of livestock to non-EU countries would “annihilate farming in Ireland” as we know it, an Oireachtas committee was told today.

Speaking at an Agriculture Committee hearing this afternoon, Ray Doyle of the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society said that there is “little or no real scientific argument” to back up the “emotive stances taken by NGOs”.

Ireland supplies the vast majority of 350,000 tonnes of beef imported by the UK, with live exports also going to mainland Europe, North Africa and Turkey. Between 200,000 and 300,000 live animals were exported from Ireland last year, a large percentage of which were calves.

Numerous Irish and European animal welfare groups have raised concerns over transport conditions for animals exported to both the EU and non-EU countries. In the past few years, several cases of live Irish cattle exports have documented breaches of EU animal welfare regulations in both France and Turkey.

Last June, several animal welfare organisations called on the European Commission to start infringement procedures against Ireland over conditions for calves exported to mainland Europe.

The groups told the Commission that Ireland is responsible for “systematically failing to enforce” EU regulations on the protection of animals during transport since as far back as 1999.

live export cattle ireland

Downer calf lying inside transport truck Photo: AWF

No scientific arguments

Mr Doyle said that some lobby groups “intentionally stir up emotive arguments” on the subject of live transport of young calves. He said that all live transport from Ireland comes under “huge scrutiny” from prominent animal welfare groups during the peak calf export season.

“There are animal welfare lobby groups and action groups that monitor us very closely, in addition to the regulatory bodies whose job it is to supervise this activity, so it is in the public eye,” he said.

He said that live exporters “adhere to stringent EU legislation” both for animal welfare and from an economic point of view.

“This is the correct thing to do, as maintaining high animal welfare standards is not just the right thing to do, its good business as any animal that performs poorly or potentially dies during transport represents an economic loss and nobody wants this to occur,” he added.

The only winner from a ban on live exports, Mr Doyle said, would be the beef processing industries as it would allow them to “stifle and manipulate the prices” on the beef markets.

Mr Doyle said that live export trade is “vital in maintaining competition in the marketplace” as a “countervailing force” against the beef processing sector dominated by four private companies.

He said that the Government should be “promoting as much live export as possible to all possible countries” to counteract the potential drop in UK sales volumes following Brexit.

Bord Bia and IFA officials met with Turkish officials in 2017 in a bid to increase live exports Photo: IFA

EU rules broken

The latest EU animal welfare rules implemented in 2005 state that unweaned calves can be transported for a maximum of nine continuous hours, which must then be followed by a rest period.

Last March, the Dutch animal rights group, Eyes on Animals, recorded footage of a journey from Rosslare to a veal farm in The Netherlands in which the rest period was not respected.

The truck was equipped with a water system that was unsuitable for unweaned calves, according to Eyes on Animals, with many of the rubber teats to cover the old metal nipples missing.

A similar investigation from 2016 by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) that later aired on German TV documented an overloaded vehicle carrying Irish unweaned calves from Rosslare to the French port of Cherbourg.

The transporter was carrying 302 unweaned calves, exceeding its maximum haulage allowance under EU rules on animal welfare during transport by 57 animals, according to the AWF.

Other violations noted by AWF include insufficient headspace, a lack of space to lie down, and poor feeding intervals for the downer calves, two of whom died during transportation.

Last June, the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament issued a draft opinion to the European Commission stating that live exports are “violating” EU regulations.

“It is unacceptable that, 13 years after the entry into force of the regulation, animals are still transported in awful conditions in inadequate and overcrowded means of transport, which causes undue animal suffering and poses serious health risks to both animal and human health,” the opinion states.

The petition asks the Commission to act to ensure that journeys are planned and executed in line with animal welfare requirements and to limit the transport time to eight hours.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London