Government fail to honour live export commitments

When the Green Party entered into government in 2020 I was filled with optimism, as it is in their manifesto that they would support a ban on live export outside the EU, and rightly so as it is inhumane and unnecessary. Change would be coming!

This optimism was short lived however, as a ban on live export outside the EU could not be agreed upon when the programme for government (PFG) was hashed out by the three parties in coalition in June 2020. But all was not lost. The PFG did commit to providing an increased veterinary presence during shipments, and it also promised to pursue value-enhancing alternatives to live exports. Small pickings yes, but something at least. However, neither of these measures have been implemented.

On the first point, since the formation of government, there have been 17 shipments to Libya and Jordan and just one journey had a vet on board, and that was only as far as Algeciras in Spain which is just part of the journey. The excuse given by the department, which is a valid one, is that Libya has been declared too dangerous to visit by the Department of Foreign Affairs so it is not possible to instruct an employee to travel there. But of course that begs the question why are we sending animals to a country too dangerous to visit ourselves? There have been two shipments to Jordan this year and that is not listed as a dangerous country yet no vet has accompanied those shipments either.

Another reason for a lack of vets on board given by Minister McConalogue in response to a PQ (parliamentary question) was actually due to covid making this ‘challenging.’ However, all travel restrictions have been lifted, so what excuse are we going to be given now?

The second commitment has also been ignored, there has been no attempt to pursue other outlets for cattle at all, value enhancing or otherwise. On the contrary, other markets in the Middle East and North Africa have been vigorously pursued. Jordan is one such new market with the first shipment departing Ireland on 23rd March this year. Another shipment arrived there on 19th May. It takes 16 days to get to Jordan, including a trip down the Suez Canal where temperatures and humidity are high. During the first journey three young bulls died and a further 41 suffered from leg injuries and respiratory illness. Despite the vessel having air conditioning temperature and humidity increased steadily throughout the journey and the animals on board will have suffered varying degrees of heat stress.

Jordan is a water scarce country with no grazing and poor animal welfare standards particularly at slaughter. It was 36° when the most recent shipment arrived there. How will Irish cattle, used to the cold and damp, cope with extreme heat and a dry, dusty environment? I have seen footage of several slaughterhouses in Jordan obtained by Animals International and the methods used are appalling, with bulls being secured by ropes whilst their throats are slashed at, all in front of other animals and all whilst fully conscious. It takes several minutes for an animal to die after the throat is slashed.

It’s too dangerous for animal welfare groups to conduct investigations in Libya but conditions will be similar, if not worse, than neighbouring countries and the sea journey is just as arduous.

A PQ where Minister McConalogue was questioned on Jordan and Iraq indicates that the export of live animals to Iraq is on the cards

Plus there have been recent reports on live export of weanling bulls to Israel following a visit here from Israeli buyers. These countries are also water scarce, hot and dry with poor animal welfare standards and brutal slaughter methods. Again, this will involve long sea journeys up to 16 days, and the weanlings being shipped out at just a few months old will suffer, there is no doubt about that.

In 2021 a deal was agreed with China for the export of live pigs. Fortunately there has been no demand from China as yet but that could change in the future.

It doesn’t end there. Whilst Ireland already exports small volumes of cattle to Morocco, overland in trucks, Bord Bia has just returned from ‘a venture to explore opportunities for live-cattle exports to the region.’ Morocco is another hot, dry, water scarce country with appalling animal welfare standards, particularly at slaughter. Bord Bia visits Morocco to explore cattle export options –  Animals Angels has conducted investigations in Morocco revealing that ‘animal welfare problems are severe and widespread and that the OIE animal welfare standards are not met outlining that Morocco has not yet adopted any legislation on the protection of animals.’ Morocco is ranked G by World Animal Protection

Live export outside the EU is particularly cruel and it is unnecessary, bringing very little economic benefit, other than to the handful of exporters. In fact the shipments to Jordan have been organised by a Spanish exporting company on behalf of a company based in Dubai.

The farmers who sell their cattle could sell elsewhere, the volume going out in each shipment equals around 5% of the weekly slaughter rate, that is all.  It is not impacting factory prices in any way, despite claims made by the industry. If we were dependent on these shipments why was there no impact on factory price last year when the volume exported outside the EU plummeted by 70%? Prices have been doing very well in fact, due to an increase in the demand for beef. The cattle export industry as a whole (which is comprised mostly of unweaned calves sold to European veal farms) is worth around 1% of the agri-food export industry and 7% of beef exports. The cruelty and suffering involved in this industry far outweighs any economic gain.

Last year there were just four shipments from Ireland, all to Libya as export to Turkey has completely dried up due to a drop in demand. There have been just four shipments to Libya again this year and if these new markets weren’t being pursued the industry would naturally die down.

The commitments negotiated and agreed upon in the programme for government in relation to live export are not being honoured. There were only two, yet they have been ignored, in fact the opposite has happened. This government is actively seeking new markets and expanding current markets outside the EU. Let me make it clear. All three parties, that is Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party, made commitments that are embedded in the PFG. They made a promise to their constituents, and they have failed to follow through on it.

A letter has been sent to every Green Party, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael TD, Senator and MEP signed by 255 EFI members and supporters, outlining the above and asking for assurances that the commitments made in the PFG will be adhered to. You can read the letter here: PfG committments – live export

Please contact your local TDs and ask them why commitments made during the formation of government are not being honoured. You will find contact details here:

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