Live ex­port of cat­tle and calves un­der a spotlight

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN

THE live ex­port of farm an­i­mals up­sets some an­i­mal lovers. Some read­ers may won­der why this is. An­i­mals have al­ways been moved from place to place. What has changed that peo­ple are now protest­ing about it?

The first point is that our cul­tural view of an­i­mals has changed: an­i­mals used to be seen as non-think­ing, non-feel­ing ob­jects, re­act­ing more by re­flexes than any­thing else. Their own­ers were largely al­lowed to treat them in any way that they felt like do­ing, and some peo­ple didn’t take the feel­ings of the an­i­mals into ac­count in any ma­jor way. While it was illegal to in­flict de­lib­er­ate pain on an­i­mals, it was not against the law to al­low them to live drab, un­com­fort­able, stressed lives.

Th­ese days, we know dif­fer­ent: an­i­mals are sen­tient crea­tures, far more like hu­mans than we used to be­lieve. Imag­ing stud­ies of their brains show that the same ar­eas light up when they feel emo­tions as in hu­mans, and they share the same neu­ro­trans­mit­ter chem­i­cals. They show the same types of facial ex­pres­sions as us (such as gri­mac­ing) when afraid or in pain. Sci­en­tists now tell us that if an an­i­mal looks fear­ful, un­com­fort­able, or dis­tressed, then there’s a very high chance that that’s ex­actly what they are feel­ing in­side. New an­i­mal wel­fare leg­is­la­tion means that an­i­mals must be al­lowed to have lives worth liv­ing, and they must be kept free of dis­com­fort, hunger, thirst, and dis­ease, as well as be­ing al­lowed to ex­press nat­u­ral be­hav­iours.

This new un­der­stand­ing of an­i­mal sen­tience means that it’s no longer ac­cept­able to treat an­i­mals in the cur­sory, util­i­tar­ian, bru­tal way that some peo­ple used to do. Cur­rent EU an­i­mal trans­port leg­is­la­tion in­cludes very strict mea­sures to pro­tect an­i­mal wel­fare, but even with th­ese, many peo­ple now feel that some types of live ex­port of an­i­mals are wrong.

The sec­ond point is that mar­kets have changed, and eco­nomic pres­sures now push farm­ers to ex­port cer­tain an­i­mals be­cause it’s the only way that they can sur­vive fi­nan­cially. The value of th­ese an­i­mals on the Ir­ish mar­ket is so low that the only eco­nomic an­swer for the farm­ers is to move the an­i­mals over­seas to be sold for a bet­ter price. So while in the past, some an­i­mals might have been sold at home, they are now ex­ported.

There is a clash be­tween those who feel that live ex­port is wrong, and farm­ers whose only op­tion to sur­vive eco­nom­i­cally is to ex­port cer­tain groups of live an­i­mals.

It’s worth ex­plain­ing more about the two main groups of an­i­mals in­volved

First, young bulls are ex­ported to Turkey and Libya, where an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards are not the same as they are in Ire­land or EU. It seems odd that farm­ers are obliged to look af­ter the an­i­mals well un­til they cross the bor­der, and af­ter that, any­thing goes. Many peo­ple be­lieve that EU farm­ers should be obliged to care for such an­i­mals from birth to death, rather than al­low­ing this to hap­pen.

One an­swer to this is­sue could be for EU or Ir­ish au­thor­i­ties to in­spect the fi­nal des­ti­na­tions of th­ese an­i­mals, to en­sure that they meet the cor­rect an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards. The Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties have done this for a decade (they have a large live ex­port trade) and it seems to be a step in the right di­rec­tion.

The sec­ond con­tentious group of an­i­mals is young male dairy calves that are now be­ing ex­ported in higher num­bers than ever. The Ir­ish dairy herd has in­creased from 1.1 mil­lion head to 1.5 mil­lion head since the milk quota was scrapped in 2015. This has led to an in­crease in the num­ber of male calves which have lit­tle value. Cows need to be preg­nant in or­der to con­tinue to pro­duce milk, but their off­spring are not wanted. Re­cently male calves were be­ing sold for 50c at marts and many dairy farm­ers have been giv­ing them away to deal­ers for ex­port. The ISPCA be­lieves that this in­crease in the na­tional dairy herd is un­sus­tain­able from an an­i­mal wel­fare per­spec­tive, and also from a farmer wel­fare per­spec­tive: there is a short­fall of dairy work­ers and there’s also a prob­lem with avail­abil­ity of vets at peak calv­ing time, which has been trun­cated into a six week pe­riod. None­the­less, it is “good busi­ness” in other ways, with the large dairy pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies thriv­ing.

In 2018 around 140000 un­weaned male calves were ex­ported from Ire­land, most go­ing to France and the Nether­lands to be raised and slaugh­tered for veal. This meat is then ex­ported from France and Nether­lands mostly to Spain and Italy. In 2019 the Min­is­ter for Agricultur­e has in­di­cated that this fig­ure will reach 200000.

The an­swer to this chal­lenge? A veal mar­ket could be cre­ated in Ire­land, al­low­ing the farm­ers to do the rear­ing work cur­rently done in other coun­tries. And per­haps those suc­cess­ful dairy pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies could di­vert some of their new prof­its to­wards such a project: af­ter all, it could be said that those un­wanted calves are a di­rect by-prod­uct of their success.

Ire­land has some of the high­est an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards in the world, with farm­ers and vets - both pri­vate and state-em­ployed - work­ing hard to do the best job pos­si­ble for the an­i­mals un­der their care. But cer­tain as­pects of live ex­port of an­i­mals would ben­e­fit from some cre­ative think­ing about mak­ing im­prove­ments.

Somea­spects of live ex­port of an­i­mals would ben­e­fit from some cre­ative think­ing

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