Hidden victims – Ireland’s live export industry

On a rainy summer day at Cork Port in July 2020, EFI supporters gathered from all over Ireland in support of 2,000 young bulls bound for Libya. Some of the bulls were already waiting to be loaded when we arrived, others were still to come. Once loaded they can wait for 24 hours or more for the vessel to leave, adding to an already significant journey.

We recorded this day and many more like it to document the victims of the live export industry. In addition to the video footage captured at Cork Port, EFI supporters have also managed to record male dairy calves departing Rosslare Port during 2021. EFI’s short video compilation also includes footage from Eyes on Animals, L214 and Animals International. While the video isn’t overly graphic, it does realistically depict elements of the live export trade. This can be upsetting if you’re witnessing what the animals who are exported experience for the first time.

Watch Ireland’s hidden victims of the live export industry

Final hours in Ireland for male dairy calves

Unweaned calves aged just 15 – 21 days old are regularly exported from Ireland as remnants of the dairy industry.

At this age calves still require a milk diet. Because it isn’t possible to feed animals while in transit, calves typically go without feed for more than 24 hours. Denied sustenance for a prolonged period of time, calves arrive in France weak and desperately hungry.

Exported calves have to deal with the physical and psychological stress of long-distance travel, as well as the very real prospect of physical abuse. In 2019 and 2020, investigations by L214 uncovered brutal treatment of Irish calves at control posts in Cherbourg.

Tragically, mistreatment and beatings are not uncommon. We also know that not every calf will survive the journey. However, because the DAFM doesn’t keep a record of mortality, we don’t have a figure as to how many die en route.

While male dairy calves are usually exported to one of Europe’s many barren veal farms. The reality is that calves can be exported within Europe to Spain, Netherlands, Italy or Poland only later to endure another lengthy journey to countries with little or no animal welfare.

Dairy calf export facts and figures at a glance
  • In 2020, 143,000 unweaned dairy calves were exported.
  • Exported calves are forced to go without feed for more than 24 hours.
  • Footage taken undercover in Cherbourg shows calves being beaten.
  • Veal farms are barren with restricted space and slatted flooring.
  • Calves are killed when they reach 26 – 34 weeks old.
  • Ireland’s expanding dairy industry will see more calves exported.
  • Irish calves exported to Europe can be re-exported to countries with no animal welfare.

Live export travel conditions to Africa and Asia

In 2020, over a thousand pregnant heifers had to endure 11 days in a truck as they were exported to Kazakhstan for breeding. Thousands of young bulls are also exported to countries such as Libya and Turkey every year. Last year alone, approximately 30,000 animals were sent on long journeys crossing choppy seas. Bulls exported to Libya will be at sea for around 10 days and it takes approx14 to get to Turkey from Ireland.

As you would expect, living conditions deteriorate quickly. The animals’ pens become soiled and slippery. This can cause injury when the bulls try to stand up or move around. Humidity is also an issue for those on board, which is further aggravated by ammonia fumes. This intensifies as the vessel gets closer to Africa.

Both Libya and Turkey have appalling animal welfare standards, and little in the way of legislation. It is well known that slaughter methods in these countries are barbaric and would not be permitted in Ireland.

Animal abuse in destination countries

Once the bulls reach Libya or Turkey, they have to endure a long journey by road, in unsuitable trucks, only to be slaughtered shortly after. It is too dangerous for NGOs to carry out investigations in Libya but documented footage from neighbouring countries, including Turkey, shows that animals are subjected to violence and abuse. EFI has seen video footage of animals being hit over the head with poles, strung up by a hind leg then repeatedly stabbed in the neck, all done in front of each other.

The Irish Government knows that the methods used to kill the bulls would not be permitted in this country. However, despite being in breach of the OIE’s (World Organisation for Animal Health) international standards on animal welfare at the point of slaughter, exports continue.

Live export outside Europe
  • In 2020, over 1,000 pregnant heifers were forced to travel by truck for 11 days to Kazakhstan.
  • Approximately 30,000 animals had to endure long sea journeys in 2020.
  • Many animals become sick, injured or die during these journeys with respiratory illness being the main cause of death.
  • Despite being in the Programme for Government, no vet accompanies the animals for the entire duration of the journey to Libya or Turkey.
  • Slaughter methods used in Libya and Turkey would not be permitted in Ireland.
  • The economic value of these exports is minimal and does not justify the level of suffering involved.
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