The state constantly tells us that the export of live farm animals is a highly regulated industry, with high standards of animal welfare and care.
Yet investigations by animal welfare groups in Ireland and other European countries have found violations of EU animal welfare standards, as well as evidence of disease, injury and disease. deaths in cattle and calves exported to Europe and elsewhere.
The export of unweaned calves is an area of particular concern, of which thousands, between just 15 and 21 days old, are sent on long journeys to calf farms in Europe where they are slaughtered when they are just a few months old.
Exports have increased in recent years; in large part due to the uncontrolled expansion of the dairy industry which produces an increasing number of male calves for which the sector has no outlet.
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A long and difficult journey
European regulations stipulate that animals should not be transported for more than eight hours; however, there are exemptions for longer journey times, provided certain conditions are met regarding rest and feeding times.
In this case, unweaned calves can be transported for nine hours, after which they should be allowed to rest for an hour and be given water and food as needed. The calves can then be transported for an additional nine hours, after which they must be unloaded and fed.
A good practice guide published by the European Commission, for example, states that “young calves should be fed and fed after as little as 8 to 9 hours”.
In reality, however, welfare groups have documented instances where calves are in a truck at ports after nine a.m. and are still on the ferry after 7 p.m.
The ferry ride alone takes 18 hours and often the trucks carrying the calves are in port for four or five hours before the departure time.
Logbooks published under FOI, for example, show that the calves were put in the trucks for about 30 hours before being unloaded and fed at the resting point in Cherbourg.
Negative impacts of travel
The feeding of calves is also a cause for serious concern. At 15 days, calves are dependent on a liquid diet and need milk or milk substitute at least twice a day.
Since there are about 300 in each truck on three levels, it is not possible to access all the calves to distribute the milk. Essentially, many multi-week-old calves go 24 to 30 hours without food.
Leaving unweaned calves for long periods of time without food can cause all kinds of health and welfare problems. They have little body fat on reserve and the stress of transport means they burn energy at a faster rate than they would on the farm.
They cannot regulate their body temperature effectively, and calves that do not receive food on a long journey will be more susceptible to cold and heat stress.
Young vulnerable calves do not have a fully developed immune system and the lack of food has a negative impact further compromising immunity.
Transportation is inherently stressful and it is essential that calves are supported during the journey by receiving adequate nutrition.
Leaving them without food for up to 30 hours will increase the stress of the trip and further compromise their immune system.
It’s time for Europe to act
All carriers, including ferry companies, have been licensed to transport livestock by the Ministry of Agriculture with certain obligations to ensure that the transport of animals is carried out in accordance with the requirements of EU regulations.
Based on the evidence we have collected, along with other organizations, we have filed a formal complaint with the European Commission against the Ministry of Agriculture for what we consider to be failure to take appropriate action in relation to potential breaches by ferry companies of which we should be dismissed.
A committee of inquiry is currently underway in the European Parliament to examine the transport of animals over long distances, whether the regulations are suitable and to what extent they are applied. The live export of unweaned Irish calves is, we hope, high on the agenda.
There is something wrong with a system where calves are born just to be killed, and something wrong with a society that allows that to happen.
Caroline Rowley is the director of Ethical Farming Ireland which advocates for better conditions for farm animals, more sustainable and ethical farming methods, and opposes live exports.
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Are we turning a blind eye to animal welfare concerns in the live animal export trade?
Noteworthy wants to bring together the evidence gathered by animal welfare groups in Ireland and mainland Europe on recent animal welfare issues and examine how the state has responded to the concerns raised.
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