A proposed tightening of calf movement rules would make calf exports to overseas destinations which are key buyers of dairy Irish calves completely unfeasible, Co Cork-based calf exporter William O’Keeffe has said.

The European Commission has proposed limiting the movement of calves to 100km until they are five weeks of age and weigh a minimum of 50kg.

It also plans to limit calf journeys by road to eight hours, rising to nine when lorries are equipped with suitable milk feeding facilities.

There are no major changes put forward for the sea leg of a live export journey, as the Commission maintains that this element of the journey does not put the same pressure on livestock as the element that is by road.

While the weight limit is already met by calves leaving for the continent, the 35-day threshold would rule Irish calves out of the Veal market

Dutch veal market, as buying calves at this age would not suit the Netherlands’ veal system, O’Keeffe told the Irish Farmers Journal.

“We could push it from 14 to 21 days maybe, but 35 days or more will just not suit their system. They will not want calves that old. If it comes in, they will just look for Dutch or German calves,” he said.

“There is no market for calves within eight or nine hours of Cherbourg, there might be a few places looking for calves in France but that is it.

“It is totally unfeasible to get Irish calves to the Netherlands in that space of time. Parts of Belgium maybe, but there is no Irish calves going to Belgium now with IBR.”

‘Common sense’ needed

O’Keeffe called for a common-sense approach to calf exports, arguing that there is sufficient data to show that calves exported from Ireland have extremely low mortality rates.

The calf exporting trade will have nothing to fear if the legislation on welfare is driven by health and mortality figures, given the standards that are currently upheld, he continued.

“The science is there to show low mortality, we have to record the figures. There is nowhere to hide.

“We do need to find buyers for these calves we are transporting. If there were issues, we wouldn’t get any more calves sold. Where is the issue with performance? Where is the issue with health? The journey logs are there so there is nowhere to hide.”

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