Calf exports pose a potential risk to the agriculture sector’s challenge of cutting carbon emissions by 2023, both Food Vision 2023 expert groups have warned.

Agriculture has signed up to a legally binding target of reducing emissions by 25% by 2030.

Calf exports, of which the majority are dairy calves, could play a major role in whether this is achievable.

The Food Vision beef and sheep report, published earlier this month, warns that any disruption to the live export trade would “substantially” increase Ireland’s total emissions.


The group, chaired by Prof Thia Hennessy, noted: “The potential impact of any future disruption to live exports on the capacity of the measures proposed to deliver on the necessary emissions reductions is noted by the group as a risk factor.”

Live cattle exports across all age groups totalled 247,163 head, of which over 140,000 were calves.

“Disruption to this trade could substantially increase the volume of emissions nationally,” the group warned.

The Food Vision dairy group, which presented its final report in late October, also warned about the risk calf exports posed.

Recommending that there should be better integration between the dairy and beef sectors, Prof Gerry Boyle’s group said: “The recent EFSA [European Food Safety Authority] opinion and recommendations on cattle transport, and in particular the transport of unweaned calves, may have a significant effect on future calf export potential.

“A successful dairy beef strategy will improve the resilience of the sector to potential shocks, with additional benefits for calf health and welfare.”

What did the EFSA recommend?

In September, the EFSA issued a report commissioned by the European Commission, recommended that unweaned calves should be at least five weeks of age and 50kg in weight before being transported.

Calves being assembled for export at Corrin Mart, Co Cork. / Donal O'Leary

It said calves below these thresholds are “still developing their gastrointestinal tract and their thermoregulatory and acquired immune systems are not completely functional”.

The authority recommended to the Commission that during calf transport, intervals between milk meals should not exceed 12 hours or be shorter than six hours. It said that after a milk meal, calves should be allowed to rest or sit down in a calm place for three hours to digest their meal.

Taking all this into account, the EFSA said journey times for unweaned calves should not exceed eight hours.

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