2023 – a year in review

Once again the year was dominated by live export, which saw a 12% increase and another new market coming on the scene – Israel. Unweaned calf export increased by 19%, but export outside the EU actually decreased by 42%, with the volume at 13,000 cattle, and just four shipments, which is good news. As with previous years, there have been a number of highs and lows. Here is an overview of our activities during the year.

January – April: RTE Investigates, chick culling, and calf welfare at Irish marts

RTE Investigates with EFI, Eyes on Animals and L214

January – The year started on a positive note, when I received a phone call from Fran McNulty in January, asking if I could meet him with his producer Frank Shouldice. I’d been pestering him for a few years to cover live export so was delighted to be told that finally they were going to carry out an investigation into male dairy calves, including export of course. I informed them of our plans to conduct another investigation into calf export with Eyes on Animals and L214 and it was decided that RTE would join us!

Chick culling coalition

Egg industry – male chick culling

January – On 10th January I attended a webex meeting at EU Parliament organised by French NGO L214 on chick and duckling culling. There were a number of MEPs present, along with representatives from animal welfare groups.

We all know that male chicks in the egg industry are killed at a day old as they have no value, but also female ducklings in the foie gras sector are culled as they have small livers.

Shocking footage was shown during the presentation and I heard mention of a coalition so I got in touch with L214 and joined.

We ran a social media campaign calling on people to email Minister McConalogue asking him to support a ban, which he does. Ireland doesn’t actually carry out any chick culling as all chicks in the egg sector are imported at one day old, mostly from the UK.

Green Week

March – I hosted a presentation at Technological University Dublin as part of Green Week on 7th March. I gave an overview of the issues with Irish animal agriculture, focusing on pigs, poultry, the dairy sector and live export, as well as a section on the environmental impact. Attendance was quite small but the presentation was well received with some interesting discussion after.

Uncovering calf abuse at marts and assembly centres

EFI trails trucks loaded with animals for export

March – On 20th March I met up with Lesley Moffat, director of Eyes and Animals, and we set off to meet Frank and an RTE cameraman at Castleisland, Kerry.

We spent two days going round marts and assembly centres, using the cover story that a Dutch TV show was reporting on calf export form Ireland, as they import so many Irish calves for their veal sector.

The reaction we received ranged from farmers wanting to be in the show, being very helpful and friendly, to total hostility and verbal abuse from mart workers.

As in the previous year, we saw rough treatment of calves, crowded pens with no bedding or water, exhausted and hungry calves and calves left at marts all night with no feed.

L214 travelled with the trucks on the ferry and also obtained undercover footage at one of the control posts in Cherbourg, that yet again exposed horrific, brutal treatment of these young,  vulnerable animals.

RTE Investigates Milking It: Dairy’s Dirty Secret aired on 10th July 2023, and the reaction was huge. It really put a spotlight on the dairy sector and the cruelty behind the live export industry. It is available to watch on RTE Player.

Information stalls

EFI information stall

March – Toward the end of March we held an information stall at NUI Galway. It was a bit quiet but we got a lot of signatures for the live export petition and some new members.

In June we held another stall at Kilkenny market. Again we managed to get quite a few signatures for our live export petition and had some interest.

Eurogroup for Animals

April – In April EFI joined Eurogroup for Animals, an animal advocacy group that works with decision-makers at an EU level. It has 87 members including Compassion in World Farming, Animals International, Animal Equality, RSPCA and ISPCA.

This could really benefit us as we are such a small group and they have a lot of influence in European parliament.

They have also assigned a Political Affairs Officer to Ireland as we are considered to be a high risk, as there is such strong opposition to animal welfare improvements from the Irish government, particularly around live export. She is an employee of the ISPCA funded by Eurogroup for Animals. We’ve had several meetings and I’m hoping she can get a foot in the door with DAFM, to give us a bit of a voice.

May – December: Animal exports Israel, breaching welfare legislation, and complaint to EU Ombudsman

Ireland to Israel live animal export footage

Sub-standard transport Israel

May – As I mentioned, Israel became a new destination for cattle with the first shipment going out on 30th May. Prior to this we have already been working with an animal rights group out there – Israel Against Live Shipments. So for the first time ever we have managed to get footage of Irish cattle arriving at the destination port.

We saw some very young looking bulls in quite a state – they were covered in manure, some had bald patches and sores, many had nasal discharge, one bull had a broken horn and blood running down his face, many showed signs of diarrhea. Also the vehicles they were transported in were not suitable for livestock and some bulls managed to get a leg stuck through the bars of the truck.

A joint letter of complaint was sent with Israel Against Live Shipments that was ignored. After the second shipment went out on 16th November the findings were similar and another letter of complaint was sent. This time I got a couple of TDs involved and the Minister informed us his department would conduct an investigation with the Israeli authorities.

This is a positive step but the Minister ignored our complaints about the condition the cattle were in after the sea journey. With the current situation out there it is highly doubtful the Israeli authorities will take any action. But at least we have been taken seriously for a change.

Joint complaint on continuous breaches

Body of young bull possibly from Sarah M. Credit MaBrodu29

November – The Sarah M left Ireland for Libya again in November. Sea conditions were appalling at the time, with winds of force 6 and 7. This is in breach of Irish legislation that states vessels must not depart when winds of force 6 or above are predicted. This happens time and time again and we have sent many complaints to the Minister. So, this time I enlisted the help of other NGOs and a joint letter of complaint was sent with Compassion in World Farming, Eyes on Animals, Welfarm, Eurogroup for Animals and Animal Welfare Foundation.

On this occasion the Sarah M actually took shelter in a bay off the coast of France for three days. This has never happened before, so we thought it rather odd. Then some days after the Sarah M set off again dead bulls started washing up on beaches in the area, at least three in total. As far as I am aware no proper investigation has been carried out so we will probably never know the source of the bulls, although given that the ear tags had been removed it looks highly likely they came from the Sarah M.

We did not receive a response to our complaint. However, two livestock vessels arrived here before Christmas and I have never seen such shenanigans! They were both here for weeks before departing on 4th and 5th January. The weather was bad until then, with high winds at sea. Could the authorities finally be enforcing their own legislation? Maybe there was another reason for the delay but it was odd for both vessels to be here for so long. We can take some consolation that these delays and extended periods at the ports will cost the exporters a lot of money!

Farm visits

I was planning on doing a number of visits to free range pig farms in 2023 but I only actually managed one. There is a new pig co operative and there are actually quite a lot of free range pig farms in Ireland now – there are 15 listed on the website and that’s not all of them.

Of course we would prefer animals were not used for food but whilst they are it is encouraging that more people are becoming aware of factory farming and looking for higher welfare produce.

Formal complaint to Ombudsman

November – EFI was one of over 30 animal welfare NGOs that submitted a complaint to the EU Ombudsman on 23rd November over the Commission’s failure to act on the End the Cage Age European Citizens’ Initiative.

Promises were made but no action has been taken. This has resulted in the Ombudsman sending a request to the European Commission to reply to us all, giving an explanation as to why it has not followed up with a legislative proposal on the ECI.

Wrapping up the year and a thank you

December – I would like to say a huge thank you to Majella for organising a church collection in December, assisted by Susan and two other supporters. They managed to raise a whopping €1030, which was amazing!

I also want to thank Natalie for all her work designing the leaflets and a school pack that we are working on with Justine, Jane, Clare and Shai, as well as Lorraine for all her help with the website.

Finally a big thank you to Susan and Jane for all their long journeys to the ports, sometimes wasted, so that we can document all the hideous shipments of cattle from Ireland. It’s so important to get footage to raise awareness.

Thank you, to all of you, for sharing, emailing, donating, protesting and caring!

With proposed changes to legislation on live transport, some of which are very concerning, and unfulfilled promises by the Commission and European elections, there is plenty of work to do in 2024! I know some of you are wondering about the court case. It’s going through the process and it’s unlikely we will get a court hearing before the summer. We just have to be patient, which unfortunately means there will be no change to calf export this year.

I wish you all the best for 2024.

Caroline Rowley, EFI Founder & Director


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