After years of numerous NGOs campaigning against the export of unweaned calves, DAFM held a meeting on calf welfare during transport on 7 December 2020 and invited representatives from the ISPCA, Ethical Farming Ireland, Eyes on Animals, Compassion in World Farming and the Swedish Association for the Protection of Animals. The meeting was part of the new Animal Welfare Strategic Plan that involves working in partnership with interested parties.
We were all asked to explain our concerns around the export of unweaned calves which were mainly due to the fact that calves have to go 24 – 30 hours with no feed. At 15 – 21 days of age calves should be fed twice a day, according to the DAFM guidelines on calf welfare.
Failure to meet current welfare regulations
Furthermore, Regulation 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport clearly states that after 9 hours of travel calves must be fed if necessary, and they MUST be fed after 18 hours. It is not possible to feed the calves during transit therefore it is not possible to be compliant with the law.
EFI also raised concerns over non-compliance of regulations with regard to the required documentation not being completely correctly, vital data such as loading times missing from journey logs, space requirements not being adhered to and calf illness, injury and mortality not being recorded which is imperative if the welfare of the animals is going to be monitored effectively.
Calf abuse and mistreatment
Eyes on Animals expressed concern over the treatment of calves at the lairages in France with thousands of calves all turning up at the same time, desperately hungry and thirsty, only to be subjected to rough handling and abuse. The volume of animals all arriving at the same time is just too much to cope with without compromising welfare.
The Swedish Association explained that we have been working with Stena Line and requested that calves should not be permitted on the ferry under two months of age.
Read the latest investigation by Eyes on Animals and L214 on the transport of unweaned calves.
DAFM’s stance on calf welfare
The DAFM officials present advised that other avenues for the calves are being examined, such as dual purpose breeds, that would assist a move away from live export which is encouraging to hear but may take years to have an impact. We were also informed that research is being carried out into the feeding of calves during transport but this also appears to be a long way off. DAFM officials did not recognise that the export of unweaned calves from Ireland as it stands is in breach of Regulation 1/2005 but did not explain why.
Whilst it was encouraging that dialogue has been opened between NGOs and DAFM nothing has changed with regard to export of unweaned calves, which is disappointing. It appears it will be business as usual come calf export season. Nevertheless we are pleased that dialogue has been opened and hope it will continue, not just in relation to calf export but all areas of animal farming where welfare is compromised such as in the intensive pig industry.