Irish farmers fear Dutch import ban on calves

A ban on the import of calves to the Netherlands would be “disappointing” for Irish livestock farming, says Irish Farmers' Association chairman Stephen Arthur. He says there are concerns in Ireland about the recently adopted motion by the House of Representativesr.

The motion by MP Leonie Vestering (PvdD) calls on the cabinet to put an end to calf imports from Ireland.

Arthur points out in the Irish media that no timeline has yet been set for a possible ban. According to him, it is currently unclear what action the Dutch government will take. Moreover, he points out that the Netherlands will go to the polls at the end of November, which could bring about a change of government. This increases the uncertainty about the impact of the motion.

A total of 195,360 Irish dairy calves were exported from Ireland in the first 25 weeks of this year, more than half of which went to the Netherlands. Exports of Irish calves to the Netherlands reached 103,489 head in the first half of 2023, an increase of 10% on the same period in 2022, which was just over 94,000.

In recent years there has been increasing criticism of the way Irish calves are transported by sea to a port in northern France, and from there by truck to the Netherlands. There is also a fuss every year about the way the animals are unloaded at their resting place in France.

Stephan Arthur told the Irish Examiner that he visited the Netherlands last September and saw that “our calves are arriving very robust”. He also pointed out that Irish calves raised on Dutch farms require fewer antibiotics than calves raised there from other countries. 

An impending update of European animal welfare laws could also throw a lot of turmoil into Irish calf exports. This includes shorter maximum travel times for animal transport. It appears that many additions to that European law will be postponed for the time being.

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said last week that proposals on animal welfare reform would be made in the coming weeks. These only concern 'animal welfare during transport'.

A possible ban on the export of calves would have a “major impact” on Irish farms, Arthur said. This would mean that the Irish would have to care for an additional 100,000 calves themselves. Irish livestock farmers also have to take into account that there is a new First Vice-President of the European Commission, the Slovakian Maros Sefcovic, who is responsible for all Green Deal proposals.