New documentary set to expose inhumane transport of Irish calves to Europe

Published by Sorcha McManigan on

November 21st, 2017

Footage of inhumane transport conditions suffered by Irish calves exported to Europe will be aired in an investigative documentary on the German state broadcaster this evening.

The ZDF documentary into transport conditions for live animal exports across Europe includes footage of an overloaded vehicle carrying Irish unweaned calves from Rosslare to the French port of Cherbourg on 10 April 2016.

According to an inspection team from the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) who followed the truck from one of its departure points in Co Monaghan on 8 April 2016, conditions were so cramped that calves were stepping on each another.

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.

According to the AWF, there were also unsuitable drinking devices for the calves and the hose of the water level gauge of the drinking system was pinched off with a bar clamp. AWF was not able to assess how much water was in the tank for the calves during the journey totaling 1,200km.

The inside of the truck also had sharp metal objects and edges, as well as metal drinking nipples which should not be used in the transport of unweaned animals under European Commission guidelines.

AWF contacted the French police to inspect the truck, however, as there was no veterinarian on site for inspection, the authorities let the transporter drive to the designated unloading place. 

Calf live export

Thirsty calf trying to drink from metal nipple Photo: AWF

Letter to the Department of Agriculture

On 2 November 2016, AWF detailed the case and the breaches in animal welfare regulations in a letter to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Martin Blake.

The letter, seen by The Green News, states that the Irish authorities at the departure point “did not ensure” that requirements regarding headspace and suitable drinking devices were met.

Under European regulations, unweaned calves must receive adequate liquid after nine hours of traveling time. The letter states, however, that this was “impossible” to do onboard a vehicle and a ferry.

The letter also states that approval for a 28-hour journey should not have been granted as unweaned calves should only be transported in two separate nine-hour legs before the animals have to be rested for 24 hours.

Dr Blake replied to the AWF on 15 November 2016, stating that a “comprehensive investigation” had been carried out by the Department and that sanctions were applied in this case.

“Issues of non-compliance are taken very seriously in Ireland and control/enforcement efforts are continually evaluated and strengthened where necessary,” Dr Blake said in the letter. 

The Green News asked the Department for details of the results of the investigation, however, did not receive a reply at the time of publication. 

AWF’s Vice Chairperson Iris Baumgärtner told The Green News that, while Irish officials are usually strict on complying with EU rules, adequate enforcement was not carried out in this particular case.

“This [case] is a clear example of a journey and transport conditions that caused suffering to the animals and should not have been approved,” Ms Baumgärtner added.

live export cattle ireland

Downer calf lying inside the truck Photo: AWF

Non-EU Exports

The German documentary will also examine the export of live animal to certain non-EU countries where there are little to no animal welfare rights in place. 

In March, MEPs called for a European Parliament inquiry into the treatment of live exports to non-EU states after revelations from a two-year investigation by AWF, Animals International, and Tierschutzbund Zurich (TSB).

The animal right groups documented the transport of cattle and sheep to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt, uncovering transport and slaughter methods routinely in breach of EU regulations and international standards.

In October, representatives from Bord Bia and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) held talks with the Turkish Meat and Milk Board (ESK) about increasing exports of Irish cattle to Turkey.

Following the meeting, IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said that Ireland could supply up to 100,000 head of live cattle to meet Turkey’s annual import requirement of 500,000 cattle. To date, 24,421 live cattle have been exported from Ireland to Turkey in the first eleven months of 2017, up almost 200 per cent from last year.

Bord Bia and IFA officials met with the Director General of ESK, Mr Ethem Kalin in Ankara, Turkey, October 2017 Photo: IFA

Gabriel Paun from Animals International said that by increasing live exports to non-EU countries, the Irish authorities will only facilitate cattle to “suffer a prolonged and painful death” from slaughter techniques illegal in the EU.

As part of an undercover investigation this year, Mr Paun filmed an “approved” ship arriving in Turkey containing Irish cattle “fully covered in a thick layer of their own faeces”. The footage also revealed that the animals were insufficiently covered from the sun’s heat as they were transported to a slaughterhouse in a vehicle designed to carry construction materials.

The investigation uncovered further violations of EU animal rights in Turkey including fully conscious European bulls being subjected to inhuman slaughtering. This included the bulls being “hoisted to the ceiling by one rear leg before having their throats hacked with multiple consecutive cuts,” Mr Paun said.

The Department of Agriculture did not reply to a request from The Green News for information on any measures that the Department has taken to ensure livestock exported to non-EU countries are transported and slaughtered in line with EU animal welfare regulations.

In addition, the Department did not reply to questions as to whether it has carried out assessment or inspections of slaughterhouse conditions in Turkey.

The ZDF documentary will air tonight at 9:15pm.

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Sorcha McManigan

Sorcha has a Degree Honours in Journalism with French from DIT and is passionate about social issues and radio production