New EU livestock transport rules affect three quarters of Irish calves

If the European Union introduces new rules for animal welfare during livestock transports, almost three-quarters of Irish calf exports will be affected. This would mean that Irish dairy farmers would have to keep hundreds of thousands of calves on their farms for at least two or three weeks longer each year.

The European Commission has proposed that calves must be at least five weeks old and weigh at least 50 kilos before they can be transported long distances. Currently, almost three-quarters of calves shipped from Ireland to EU countries are less than five weeks old, according to the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

Updating the EU rules for animals in transport are part of the Commission's intention to review the current 2005 animal welfare legislation. Initially, Brussels planned to modernize all animal welfare rules, but EFSA Commissioner Stella Kyriakides reduced this to 'animal welfare during transport', and then a limited package. 

Nevertheless, there are many objections and reservations, not only in the livestock farming and transport sectors, but also among several EU countries. For example, the European Commission wants to put an end to 'the dragging of live cattle' to the cheapest slaughterhouses elsewhere in Europe with a maximum transport time of nine hours per 24 hours for slaughter cattle. Brussels is also introducing stricter requirements for more space for animals during transport.

The Irish Department of Agriculture has prepared an official response to the proposals which has been submitted to the Irish Parliament, and will soon be discussed in Dublin (and will undoubtedly be on the table at LNV meetings in Brussels afterwards). 

In it, Minister Charlie McConalogue says that although Ireland 'supports the reform of animal welfare rules during transport', Ireland still has some “important areas of concern” (read: we have not got that far yet).

The DAFM believes new transport rules should take into account Ireland's “unique” geographical circumstances and the right of Irish companies to maintain full access to the internal EU market. EU measures that 'threaten' Irish market access and place Irish farmers at a disadvantage compared to their EU colleagues are likely to face 'strong opposition' from Ireland's agricultural sectors, the DAFM expects.

Moreover, the Irish seriously question an important part of the newly proposed rules, pointing out that they are not scientifically substantiated and no practical experience has yet been gained. Brussels wants to make it mandatory for the transport of calves in trucks that the animals are supplemented with milk replacers en route (in the trailers), but Dublin calls this "risky and not based on evidence".

This system is used in Germany to administer electrolytes to calves during transport because calves are at risk of diarrhea, colic and dehydration if they receive milk replacer. According to Minister McConalogue, there is even scientific evidence that calves fed with electrolyte solutions during transport do better than calves that are supplemented with milk replacers during transport.

Ireland also says that it does not yet have enough qualified veterinarians to supervise livestock transport by sea to non-EU countries. New EU rules for vessels exporting livestock, introduced this year, require an official veterinarian to sail on board the maiden voyage following an approval inspection of the vessel.