Every year thousands of animals are exported from Ireland to countries as far afield as Libya, Lebanon, Kazakhstan 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
- Just under 144,000 calves were exported to Europe in 2020 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 up to 30 hours 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 three 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.
- Calves cannot regulate their own body temperature efficiently and have underdeveloped immune systems leaving them susceptible to illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea.
- The veal farms the 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 majority of calves are sent to 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.
- 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 resor 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.
- Around 30,000 sheep were exported to Europe in 2020.
- 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.
- Nearly 28,000 cattle were exported to North Africa and the Middle East in 2020.
- Countries include Turkey, Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Kazakhstan.
- Sea journeys are very stressful for land animals and they suffer from motion sickness just like humans do.
- Many animals die during the 8 to 14 day journey – an average of four per shipment. Causes range from broken limbs to respiratory illness.
- 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 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.
- 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 Kazakhstan, 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.
- 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.
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 at the start of the year 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.
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.
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 260,000 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 2020 cattle export was worth €133 million but most of that figure (€93 million) 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 €4.2 billion during that same period.
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.
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.
Email your TDs and MEPs and ask them to help put an end to long distance transport. Contact details can be found here:
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