ANIT committee vote: a major win for unweaned animals!

After 18 months of hearings and workshops on 2nd December the ANIT committee of inquiry into the protection of animals during long distance transport wrapped up with a vote on recommendations including a ban on the transport of unweaned animals under 35 days of age and limiting journeys of unweaned animals older than 35 days to 2 hours.

This is ground breaking! It will effectively mean a ban on the live export of unweaned calves from Ireland, which has caused what can only be described as a hysterical response from farming groups along with MEP Billy Kelleher who has stated “The Green proposals have driven a coach and four through the very fabric of rural Ireland with these proposals” and “If Irish farmers and transporters are banned from transporting calves to mainland Europe, it will be an attack on the principles underpinning the European Single Market.”

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has claimed that the outcome of the vote is “deeply alarming” and will cause “unintended consequences.”

Minister McConalogue stated “It is clear to see that the pressure is there in the market, with interest groups who are now fighting science with an ideology” and “Our dairy sector in particular is built on the export of live calves, because we produce a top quality calf and we take tremendous steps in transporting them healthily and safely.”

IFA Dairy Chairman Stephen Arthur has said the recommendation to end the transport of unweaned calves would be devastating for the Irish dairy sector. “We cannot be treated unfairly.  Compliance with enhanced regulations to improve conditions during transport would be a more practical solution than an outright ban,”

This is utter tosh on all accounts. Yes a large number of vulnerable, unweaned calves are exported to mainland Europe every year but the majority are already reared here for beef. A ban will put pressure on dairy farmers who will no longer be able to offload their calves at 10 – 14 days old, but it’s time they took responsibility for the animals they are breeding. No doubt there will be calls for supports for the additional costs but at the end of the day farmers should not breed animals if they do not have the means to take care of them.

Rural Ireland is not going to implode. Rural Ireland isn’t solely made up of dairy farmers. The principles that the European single market was built on do not include animal cruelty and suffering, that is a preposterous statement to make by Kelleher.

There may be an increase on the 25,000 or so calves that are sent to slaughter at a couple of weeks old and on farm calf deaths may increase, but calf export is also a serious welfare issue that has been ignored for decades. Herd reduction combined with sexed semen and increased farm inspections by the authorities would address these welfare concerns, with a lower number of higher value calves. This could also be a good time to give serious thought to calf at foot dairies where the calf stays with the mother and she does all the work looking after her calf, as nature intended. This is a promise made in the programme for government and must be followed up on.

Furthermore, it is very important to note that the export of unweaned calves from Ireland is being conducted illegally and has been for decades. Complaints made to the Irish authorities and to the EU Commission have fallen on deaf ears. Kelleher continues to ignore this fact whilst pointing the finger at other member states, expressing outrage about the lack of enforcement of the Regulation. Ireland is one of the worst culprits! No other member state is starving calves for an average of 26.5 hours during each journey. Calves cannot be fed whilst on the truck, they have to be unloaded and individually fed warm milk and they have to rest for 3 hours afterward. The ferry journey is 18 hours long and with the loading and unloading and travel time on either end, journey logs obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that calves are going 24 – 30 hours with no feed. Nobody with any compassion or decency can think this is an acceptable way to treat a 15 day old animal. There are all kinds of other health and welfare issues with the long distance transport of unweaned calves, as many scientific studies have concluded, due to underdeveloped immune systems and the inability to effectively regulate their body temperature, as well as having little body fat and being wholly dependant on a milk diet.

Kelleher states “when this issue comes up for debate next month at the full plenary session of the Parliament, I will table alternative proposals which reflect my belief that it is possible to transport live animals and maintain their wellbeing. I do not believe it is an either-or scenario,” It is just not possible to transport unweaned calves whilst maintaining their wellbeing because it is not possible to feed the calves during transport. We are at a disadvantage compared to other member states but that is no reason to make vulnerable, unweaned animals suffer.  I would be very interested to know how exactly Kelleher is planning on addressing the feeding issue because there is no way round it. Besides, Ireland is not complying with existing legislation so what makes Kelleher think any amendments and improvements would be adhered to?

Despite the good news for unweaned animals it is extremely disappointing that there was no call to limit all journeys to eight hours or ban export outside the EU. Sea journeys are particularly cruel and fraught with danger as we have seen in recent years with numerous tragedies including the Karim Allah and Elbeik that were going from pillar to post last year, with no port allowing them to dock. After more than two months of extreme suffering the vessels returned to Spain, where they had come from, and the young animals were euthanized.

Weather and sea conditions are often perilous, as we have seen with the Finola M that is currently caught up in a terrible storm in the Mediterranean Sea. The suffering that these animals endure during these journeys is appalling. The terrible risks to the health and welfare of the animals and crew far outweigh the financial gain.

There was also nothing around only exporting to countries that have similar standards to ours, particularly at slaughter, which is a major issue with export outside the EU.

It also seems to have been forgotten that we are in a climate crisis. The carbon footprint of all these journeys has not been taken into account. Livestock vessels are constantly on the move, often empty, travelling all around the world guzzling vast volumes of dirty fuel, spewing out fumes and polluting the seas with excrement and carcasses. Livestock trucks are constantly crossing Europe and unlike other goods vehicles they normally come back empty. Welfare aside it would be far more efficient to export meat than live animals.

You can see how MEPs voted here:

Regulation 1/2005 needs a complete overhaul, it must be clearer in it’s meaning and it must be species specific. We need strict penalties against member states where breaches occur and complaints from NGOs must be taken seriously by the Commission and enacted upon. But at the end of the day live export should be banned entirely and long distance transport for slaughter should be limited to 8 hours maximum. This may mean a need for more local slaughterhouses and there should be investments in mobile slaughterhouses.

There will be a final vote in January, including all MEPs this time not just ANIT members, so we will have to wait and see what happens.

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