Irish farming groups have welcomed a vote in the European Parliament which rejected proposals advanced by a parliamentary sub-group before Christmas that would have had a significant impact on Irish farmers' capacity to export live animals to EU markets.
As part of a series of votes, two compromises concerning the transportation of pregnant animals and unweaned calves were backed by the parliament while a separate amendment – which would have cut the allowed journey times for livestock to eight hours – was also defeated.
Ahead of the vote Irish farmers warned that if strict limits on the transport of certain categories of live animals had been backed by the parliament, it would have resulted in unintended welfare issues and led to a collapse in prices paid by factories in Ireland.
The proposals would have banned the movement of all young animals aged under 35 days and pregnant animals in their final trimester and would have hit the movement of animals within Ireland as well as live exports, according to John O'Hanlon, a farmer and former manager of Ballymahon mart in Co Longford.
He described the proposals as “unenforceable”, noting that farmers might be prevented from moving their animals from one pocket of land they operate to another.
West Sligo farmer JP Cowley said the proposals would have had serious implications especially for the dairy sector. “If they stop live exports of calves where will they end up, what will happen to them?” asked the suckler farmer, who is based near Easkey.
The former Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) county chairman said he was also concerned that the significant trade with Northern Ireland would be affected if the proposed measures had passed.
Other big element
Brendan Golden, chairman of the IFA National Livestock Committee who travelled to Strasbourg on Wednesday with the association president Tim Cullinan to lobby MEPs, said Irish farmers implemented the highest welfare standards in the world. And he questioned whether other EU countries met similarly high standards.
“Seeking to change the rules because other countries fail to implement them is not acceptable,” he said.
He suggested that the proposed rules would have posed particular challenges for Ireland as an island nation.
“The other big element is the proposal that animals could not be moved within three months of due date,” said the IFA official. “That does not make any sense whatsoever. We have farmers who move their ewes closer to home when they near lambing. It make so sense from a sheep farmer’s perspective if they cannot do that.”
After the vote Mr Cullinan said the voting through of key amendments on animal transport had gone some way towards safeguarding competition in the cattle trade although he said there was “more to be done to convince legislators that we are meeting the highest standards”.
He acknowledged the work done by Irish MEPs to get backing in the parliament for the amendments. “From the position of Irish farming, it was vital that the key amendments were carried, but our campaign will continue. IFA will be working with others . . . to build support for animal transport, given its critical role for Ireland as an island nation,” he said.
“Our calves are highly sought after in the European market. They are very robust and healthy . . . Our animal welfare and transport are of the highest standard, which is why there is such demand for our calves,” he added.
President of the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association Pat McCormack welcomed the vote. He said the proposals which had been put forward by the parliamentary committee before Christmas “were clearly unworkable from both the perspective of animal welfare and farming”.
He noted that the EU Commission was likely to bring forward proposals on animal transport in 2023 and called for the “equal enforcement of existing regulations across member states” which, he said, “should be the priority before any new regulations are contemplated. Any new framework must also acknowledge Ireland’s vulnerable position as the only sizable island nation in the EU.”