The Dutch House of Representatives, equivalent to Ireland’s Dáil, has voted to ban the import of calves.

A majority of the house voted on Tuesday in favour of a motion brought forward by the Party for the Animals, led by member Leonie Vestering.

The motion has now tasked the Dutch government to come up with a plan to end calf imports into the Netherlands.

Ireland has exported over 105,000 calves to the Netherlands so far this year, up approximately 15% on 2022 levels. Some 64,000 of the calves were dairy sired and another 42,000 were beef sired.

The Dutch parliament has voted to ban calf imports. \ Claire Nash

While timelines for the ban are not yet known, the move by the Dutch is a major blow to the Irish dairy sector, with the avenue for thousands of Irish calves now under threat.

"The long-distance transports of very young calves are accompanied by serious animal suffering,” the agreed motion read.

No alternative

Cork-based exporter William O’Keeffe, who exported nearly 22,000 calves to the Netherlands in 2022, said that while the ban has “a long way to go”, “there’s going to be nowhere to take up the slack”.

The move is a major blow for the Irish dairy sector. \ Eamon Ward

“There are not that many new places that would take that type of calf. The calves wouldn’t be suitable for the Spanish or Polish markets,” he said.

O’Keeffe explained that Dutch calf importers operate for the veal market, whereas their Spanish and Polish peers finish the Irish calves on to beef.

The calf exporter said that since the Dutch parliament voted on the ban on Tuesday, which he said was unexpected, a number of Dutch importers have already been in touch.

O’Keeffe said these importers are already concerned, as they want the Irish calf ahead of others.

Thousands of Irish calves could be left without a market due to the Dutch import ban. \ Donal O' Leary

“Any Dutch guy wants the Irish calves over their own or the German calves,” he said, adding that this is down to the Irish calf’s high health status and the country’s low antibiotic use.

However, while the ban agreed by the Dutch politicians was unexpected, O’Keeffe said that calf exports to the Netherlands were never going to “last forever”.

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