Every year thousands of animals are exported from Ireland to countries as far afield as Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Turkey. Numerous studies have shown that transport over 8 hours for animals is detrimental to their health and well being. The Irish authorities claim that the industry is strictly regulated and welfare standards are high but animals become sick and injured and sometimes die during these long stressful journeys. Investigations by EFI have uncovered continuous breaches of Regulations and the authorities do not record the mortality or morbidity rates so it is quite a stretch to claim high welfare.

Live Export – Facts and Figures

Footage by L214 revealed hideous abuse of calves at a control post in Cherbourg 2019


  • Just over 150,000 calves were exported to Europe in 2022 at just 15 – 21 days old. They are mostly unwanted male calves from the dairy sector.
  • Calves are left without food or accessible water for 24 to 30 hours, often longer, and can lose a great deal of body weight during the journey. The ferry journey alone is around 18 hours and they cannot be fed without being unloaded as they must be fed milk replacer individually. Calves should be fed a minimum of two hours before travel as they need to lie down to digest the feed efficiently and the trucks must be at the ferry port two hours before departure. EFI has seen documentation showing that calves were on a truck for over nine hours before the ferry departed and observations at the port have shown that it is common for trucks to arrive three or four hours before the ferry is due to leave. These investigations have shown that calves are on the truck for a minimum of 24 hours and also, due to the large number of calves arriving at the control posts at one time, some will have to wait up to 8 hours further before being fed.
  • Calves cannot regulate their own body temperature efficiently and have underdeveloped immune systems leaving them susceptible to illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea. They do not have a fully functioning immune system until around 8 weeks old.
  • The veal farms that the majority of calves are sent to can keep them in inhumane conditions with barren stalls too narrow for them to turn around in and bare, slatted flooring. They spend all of their short lives indoors and never get to graze or run through green pastures.
  • The second biggest destination for calves is Spain, where they can end up exported on to Libya, Lebanon and Turkey. It has been well documented that slaughter methods used in these countries are inhumane. Export has increased to Romania and Hungary where the calves are fattened and exported on to Israel in sub standard livestock vessels.
  • EU Regulation 1/2005 on the transport of animals clearly states that unweaned animals must be fed after 9 hours if necessary and after a maximum of 19 hours. There is a derogation for roll on roll off ferry journeys but it is only in relation to journey and rest times. Feed and water requirements still stand and this was confimed by DG Sante Bernard van Goethem in a letter to Eyes on Animals in June 2020, meaning the calves must be fed after a maximum of 19 hours. These calves have to endure 24 -30 hours with no feed which is a clear breach of Regulation. You can read the letter here: DG Sante confirmation feeding requirements
  • Undercover footage at the lairages in Cherbourg where the calves are unloaded and fed and rested for 13 hours obtained by Dutch group Eyes on Animals and French group L214 shows rough treatment and abuse of the calves by the workers (as in the image above.) Deceased calves were also observed there.
  • A proposed increase of age to 28 days will not be much of an improvement. At that age the rumen is still not fully developed so calves are still dependent on milk for their nutritional needs and the immune system is still not fully developed so they are prone to disease. The rumen and the immune system is not fully developed until around two months old.




  • Just over 9,000 cattle were exported to Libya in 2022 and shipments to Turkey resumed with 5,400 head going out. There were 11 shipments in total transporting over 20,000 cattle and 300 sheep.
  • Countries can include Turkey, Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Jordan and Egypt are new markets with two shipments headed to each in 2022, plus Israel has been added with two shipments so far in 2023.
  • Sea journeys are very stressful for land animals and they suffer from motion sickness just like humans do.
  • Some animals die during the 8 to 16 day journey – an average of three per shipment. The most common cause is respiratory illness. Many more become sick or injured.
  • Excessive lurching of the vessels in rough seas causes the cattle to spend more time lying down which can cause bloat. This is extremely painful and potentially lethal.
  • Cattle that have come from grassy fields are fed a lot of meal on board and this sudden change in diet can cause acidosis which creates acid in the rumen and can be fatal.
  • The pens have a thin layer of sawdust and are only cleaned once during the journey. The animals end up knee deep in manure which can lead to slippage and injury.
  • Humidity levels are high in the sea vessels and the animals are breathing in ammonia fumes from all the waste in the pens. They will suffer from varying degrees of heat stress and respiratory illness.
  • Cattle find any changes in routine stressful, and fear can be induced by loud noises and movements, being rushed, dark spaces and heights, and this can lead to slippage and injuries. It is clear from observations at shipment loadings that the cattle are afraid and do not want to enter the vessel.
  • The animal welfare legislation in the destination countries is minimal and not enforced.
  • Investigations have shown inhumane methods of slaughter are used including slashing tendons, stabbing in the eyes, being strung up by a rear leg, multiple slashes at the throat.
  • Cattle also endure long journeys by truck to countries like Morocco, which takes 10 days to complete.
  • These journeys breach several EU and Irish Regulations including EU Regulation 1/2005 on the transport of animals that states animals should not be transported in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them, EU Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing that states animals shall be spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during their killing and related operations, Ireland’s Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 that states a person shall not do anything or permit anything to be done to an animal that causes unnecessary suffering, or endangers the health or welfare of the animal and Ireland’s Slaughter of Animals Act 1935 that states no animal should be slaughtered in front of another, and no animals should be slaughtered by any means which causes any unnecessary, avoidable, or excessive pain or suffering.



  • Around 15,000 sheep were exported to Europe in 2022.
  • They are mainly exported for religious slaughter in the run up to the festival of EID al-Adha.
  • Sheep are exported during July and August when temperatures can exceed 30 degrees causing them to suffer from thirst and heat stress.
  • Many are slaughtered in unofficial ‘pop up’ slaughterhouse where there is no pre-stunning.
  • In January 2022, 305 sheep were included in a shipment of cattle to Libya. The livestock vessel used, the Finola M, was not authorised to carry sheep. A complaint was submitted to the Minister who did not respond.


  • Over 400,000 pigs are exported every year, the majority of which go to Northern Ireland for slaughter and processing.
  • Small volumes are also exported to the UK and mainland Europe, mainly Spain and Italy.
  • Pigs travel badly and are easily stressed by transport and handling.
  • Pigs do not have sweat glands and are particularly susceptible to heat stress during transport that can lead to dehydration and respiratory distress.
  • In 2021 a trade agreement was made with China for breeding pigs, as their herds were decimated by African Swine Fever (ASF.) China has poor animal welfare standards, a lack of legislation and thousands of pigs were buried alive due to ASF outbreaks. Fortunately it seems China has replensihed it’s stock and no pigs have been exported there to date.

Journeys over eight hours should be banned

All transport is likely to be stressful to animals and risks injury, suffering and the spread of disease – particularly when the animals are so young and the risk of catching illnesses is far higher. The EU’s Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare has stated “after a few hours of transport welfare tends to become poorer as journey length increases.”

Stress impacts feed intake and can have an inhibitory effect on rumination that may reduce feed digestibility and increase the risk of ruminal acidosis that can be fatal.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 live export has continued as usual adding to the risk of disease spreading across borders as trucks and sea vessels travel around the world unhindered. Keeping large numbers of animals in confined spaces under extremely stressful situations is also a breeding ground for disease and the hightens the risk of zoonoses. IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis) is a hugely costly and highly contagious disease prevalent on farms in Ireland and infection can be reactived by stress, hunger, tiredness etc but cannot be detected, meaning there is a large risk this will be transmitted to cattle on destination farms.

Animals can suffer from sea sickness in the same way we can and this is worsened by rough sea conditions. Livestock vessels often hit winds of gale force 8 and higher which is not only a breach of the Carriage of Livestock by Sea Regulations but the rolling and pitching of the vessel can also cause reduced feed intake, increased risk of miscarriage, increased stress and increased heart rate. An EU report on the welfare of animals during transport recommends that animals are not transported during severe weather, however this is difficult to avoid during sea journeys, particularly around the Bay of Biscay where the sea is always choppy.

All animals need stimulation and the ability to carry out natural behaviours. This is denied them during long distance transport, so the longer the journey the higher the negative impact on their health and welfare. Animals should be afforded as a minimum the five freedoms: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from discomfort; freedom to carry out natural behaviours; freedom from fear and distress. It is clear that animals are denied all of these five freedoms during long distance transport.

Why do we have live export?

The reason given for live export is that it is essential to have alternative markets to stop the national market being flooded, to keep prices high in the factories. However, firstly that is no excuse for animal cruelty and secondly there is no data to back this up. Cattle export is around 250,000 a year, but when you consider that around 35,000 cattle are slaughtered every single week in Ireland the amount is negligible and does not stimulate price. The contribution to the economy is also minimal. In 2021 cattle export was worth €214 million but around half of that was from export to Northern Ireland, which involves a short road journey. Unweaned calves from the dairy sector are worth very little and the contribution from the trade to the economy is minimal. To put it in perspective, beef export was worth €2.1 billion during that same period.

Teagasc conducted an economic analysis of the impact of a total ban on live export, studying beef export and live export figures, slaughter rates and beef prices from 1930 – 2016. It found that the nominal value of beef exports grew by almost 60% between 1990 and 2015, while the value of live exports declined by over 33% over the same period. The decline in the value of live exports largely reflected changes in the composition of the live trade (more male dairy calves) as well as a decline in the number of cattle exported – the total volume of cattle exported in 2015 was almost 20% lower than in 1990. The decline in the value of live exports per head exported over time did not reflect the movement in cattle prices over this period – in fact prices of cattle of all ages increased over the period 1990 to 2014, despite the drop in live export volumes and value.  The report concluded that given the decline in the importance of live cattle exports, a ban would not have a big impact today and would have an insignificant impact on output values and sectoral income. This debunks the theory that live export stimulates price and is vital for the beef sector. The report also concluded that, whilst a live export ban would impact employment in the industry, the increased activity associated with the rearing and processing of the animals could outweigh the negative impacts of a ban. The reason for the study is there are high incidents of IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis) in cattle in Ireland and any formal IBR control/eradication programmes in EU member states could lead to a ban the import of Irish live cattle. 75% of Irish cattle are estimated to be infected with IBR and latent infection can be reactivated by stress caused by transport, mixing with other animals, hunger and lameness.

There have been claims that a ban on calf export would cause welfare issues, due to the glut of unwanted male dairy calves that would have to be dealt with. However, the live export of calves is a huge welfare issue already. It should be noted that whilst the number of calves exported is quite high the majority of the 750,000 male dairy calves born each year are already absorbed into the beef sector so another 145,000 wouldn’t make that much difference. Plus in 2022 there has been a 40% increase in calf slaughter, despite the fact calf export has increased by 22%.

The majority of pigs are exported to Northern Ireland which is not such a welfare concern and the volume of sheep exported is so small it has no impact on competition and contributes very little to the economy.

If there was a live export ban, excluding the UK and Northern Ireland, there would be minimal impact, except to the handful of exporters involved in the trade.

Environmental impact – we are in a climate crisis and should be reducing the amount of animal produce consumed, not shipping and trucking live animals all over Europe and the rest of the world. The food industry needs to be completely overhauled, including transportation.

Risk of disease and zoonoses – hungry, stressed and exhausted animals in cramped conditions creates the perfect environment for the spread of diseases that can easily spread to humans.

Get involved

Email your TDs and MEPs and ask them to help put an end to long distance transport. Contact details can be found here:

  • http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/contact/
  • http://www.europarl.ie/en/your-meps

You can also email the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: minister@agriculture.gov.ie and Janusz Wojciechowski European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development janusz.wojciechowski@ec.europa.eu.

If you would like more information or would like to become involved in the group please email info@ethicalfarmingireland.com, complete the form to subscribe to news and updates at the bottom of the page or why not become a member? Click on the EFI membership button for details!

Noteworthy Investigation

Journalist Niall Sargent from Noteworthy has carried out an indepth investigation into the reality behind this murky and secretive trade. Three articles have been published covering all aspects of the industry, they are quite the eye opener. You can access them all here: https://www.noteworthy.ie/trade-off/news









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