EFI initiates High Court proceedings against the State

Calves crowded during transit with no headroom

EFI monitors calves at Rosslare

Since EFI’s formation, our biggest campaigning effort has been against live export. We have focused on the export of unweaned calves because we believe it is being conducted unlawfully as feeding requirements cannot be met during transit. Being denied milk, which young calves depend on, ultimately causes undue harm and suffering.

For a number of years we have been at Rosslare port monitoring the trucks going through. EFI has seen trucks full of bawling calves who are already hungry and stressed by the time they reach the port, which is just the start of the long journey to France. We have gathered evidence including video footage of calves in crowded trucks, registration numbers and the arrival times at the port. We have also assisted Dutch NGO Eyes on Animals and French NGO L214 in their investigations that encompassed Ireland, France and the Netherlands.

Incomplete journey logs for exported calves

Every truck passing through the port must have a journey log that plans out the trip, which has been authorised by the Department of Agriculture and the Marine (DAFM). There are sections that have to be completed at each stage of the journey, including the time of the first loading, resting times, the number of calves that arrive at the destination fit or dead etc.

We have obtained copies of numerous journey logs over the years by submitting requests to DAFM under the Freedom of Information Act. Our aim was to ascertain how long the calves are on the trucks from the first loading to the arrival at the control post at Cherbourg. We found during our investigations that the majority of journey logs are not completed fully, and also a number are not returned to DAFM at all.

80% of journey logs viewed do not have the loading time entered, which is imperative if we are to calculate how long the calves are on the truck for; 82% did not have the section completed that states how many arrived fit or dead, and 10% of those requested could not be located.

We are constantly being told this is a highly regulated industry, yet these basic documents are not being returned or completed correctly. We are constantly being told the industry is high welfare, yet DAFM has no idea how many calves are dying during the journey as the relevant section is not even filled out.

Calves denied feed for prolonged periods

Calves crowded at Cork mart with no access to water or bedding

What we do know as absolute fact is these calves have to endure a minimum of 24 hours with no feed and some will go well in excess of 30 hours. We also know as fact, following an investigation conducted in early March, that many of these calves will already be in a weakened state before starting the journey, as they will have gone 24 hours or so with just one feed, whilst kept at a noisy and stressful mart before loading onto trucks for export.

During the investigation in March EFI witnessed very young calves at marts in crowded pens with no access to water and no bedding. We were informed by the mart manager that the calves receive one feed whilst at the mart, which is several hours before the ferry leaves Rosslare. This means the calves only get one feed in roughly 50 hours or more.

Sadly, we also know as fact that calves die on the way. We don’t know how many, but there have been two occasions where L214 obtained undercover footage at the control posts in Cherbourg where the calves are unloaded, fed and rested for 13 hours, and on each occasion there were dead calves present at the post. Bizarrely, in 2018 a prominent transporter posted a video on YouTube taken at one of the controls posts with a drone and a pile of dead calves was clearly visible in the footage, outside one of the trucks (see screenshot below.) Starving calves for in excess of 24 hours cannot be claimed as high welfare.

L214 has observed calf mortality at Cherbourg on two occasions

Welfare implications of transporting young calves from Ireland

Any live export to mainland Europe involves an 18 hour ferry journey and herein lies the problem. There are around 300 calves in each truck over three tiers. It is not possible for them to be fed without unloading as they are dependent on milk and must be fed individually. The driver cannot reach the calves, it wouldn’t be possible to carry that much milk or replacer on the truck or warm it up, and the calves obviously cannot be unloaded on the ferry, they are stuck in the trucks.

This means they cannot be fed until they are unloaded at the control post in Cherbourg. It is also important to note that as there are around 2,500 calves all arriving at the same time some have to wait several more hours before being fed.

Footage shows how desperately hungry the calves are. Our investigations have shown that calves have to endure a minimum of 24 hours with no feed. However, for some calves it will be more like 35 hours. These calves are just 15 – 21 days old. Their immune system is not fully developed. Calves are unable to regulate their body temperature effectively, and they are vulnerable and prone to disease at such a young age.

Failure to uphold Regulation 1/2005

Dead Irish calves at Cherbourg

EC Regulation 1/2005 on the protection of animals during long distance transport states that unweaned calves should be rested for one hour after 9 hours of transport and be fed and watered if necessary. After 9 hours of transport the calves are stuck in the truck on the ferry, or at the ferry port waiting to board. They may then be transported for a further 9 hours after which time they must be unloaded and fed. However, at that point they are still on the ferry so it is not possible to export unweaned calves from Ireland without breaching the Regulation.

There is a derogation for roll on roll off ferries but it only covers the journey time, feeding and water requirements still apply and this was confirmed to Eyes on Animals by the EU Commission’s Director General for Health and Food Safety in June 2020.

The Regulation also states, along with Ireland’s Animal Welfare Act 2013, that transport should not cause undue harm and suffering. What is clear is that these journeys to France do just that.

EFI has joined Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and Eyes on Animals in submitting complaints about the trade. We have sent numerous joint letters to the Minister and we have submitted formal complaints to the EU Commission. In September 2019, we met with Stena Line at their head office in London to ask them to stop accepting unweaned calves on their ferries. The following December, we met with DAFM to discuss the issues around calf export and the incomplete journey logs.

We suggested that the age be raised to two months as at that age immunity has kicked in and the rumen has developed enough for the calves to consume solid food so they are no longer dependent on milk for their nutritional needs. But our concerns have fallen on deaf ears. The Commission stated it could not take any action as we have not provided evidence.

DAFM acknowledges the calves cannot be fed. The exporters and transporters acknowledge that calves cannot be fed. An investigation carried out by the Commission concluded calves cannot be fed! But apparently that is not enough proof.

Taking the legal route

The Bar of Ireland runs a Voluntary Assistance Scheme for NGOs and charities and after some communications back and forth with them they agreed to take on the case. This is incredible and we are eternally grateful to Patrick McCann Senior Counsel, Harriet Burgess Barrister at Law, and solicitor Leonora Mullett of Philip Lee LLP. A number of letters were initially sent to the Minister and we did offer mediation, twice, but this was ignored. So on 18 July 2022 an application seeking leave to apply for judicial review was opened in the High Court. The matter has been adjourned to 1st November 2022 and the State has been put on notice of the application.

You can read more about it here:



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  1. Mary

    Behave like humans with compassion not just for profit and greed

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