Europe has ramped up pressure on live exports with a vote which would effectively ban the transport of unweaned calves under five weeks of age.

Amendments backed by Green MEPs on Thursday could lead to a ban on the transport of pregnant animals in the last third of gestation, transport time limits of two hours for unweaned animals older than 35 days and a ban on all transport for young animals under 35 days.

The proposed regulations will not impact on the movement of calves within member states, up to a 50km limit .

However, it is unclear how these regulations might affect the mart trade in Ireland in spring 2023.

Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey spoke to the Irish Farmers Journal following the vote by the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT).

He described the amendments as a move that will only affect those countries which already adhere to high animal export standards, as opposed to properly enforcing standards on countries who currently are “laggards” on compliance.

The Midlands-Northwest representative warned that the vote could have significant implications for Ireland’s traditional calf export system.Ireland exported 140,000 young calves annually in recent years.

Backlog on farms

“While I supported many of the compromises reached by the committee, I was concerned that a last-minute amendment to ban the transport of unweaned animals under five weeks was approved,” said Markey.

“The initial proposal of four weeks would have proved challenging, but a change to five weeks will see a backlog of calves on farms, which could lead to animal welfare issues - something which goes completely against the aims of the special committee,” he said.

The new regulations would also see a ban on the transport of pregnant livestock in their third trimester. / Philip Doyle

He highlighted that a backlog of calves being kept on Irish farms during the busiest period of the year will lead to higher labour, feed and veterinary costs.

He noted that at a time when Europe is striving to reduce antimicrobial resistance, the measures introduced are counterproductive to that objective.

Table alternatives

On Thursday’s amendments, Billy Kelleher MEP said he will “table alternatives to stop Green [party] proposals at full plenary session” in January.

The Fianna Fáil MEP said: “This is a shocking decision and an unmitigated disaster for Irish agriculture.”

It would sound a death knell for thousands of jobs in rural Ireland

“Quite simply, if adopted by the full parliament and taken on board by the Commission when drawing up the new regulation, it would sound a death knell for thousands of jobs in rural Ireland.”

He warned that if Irish farmers and transporters are banned from transporting calves to mainland Europe, it will be an attack on the principles underpinning the European single market.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, he warned that the “uncertainty” created by such moves in Brussels will raise questions from any farmer or transporter on investing in their businesses, new trucks or lairage facilities.

Kelleher said the transporting of live animals to Europe while maintaining their wellbeing is not an either-or scenario and called on his Green colleagues to “see sense”.

Next steps

The ANIT Committee was established last year to investigate alleged breaches of EU animal welfare rules during transport and its recommendations will go to a full vote of the European Parliament in January.

If passed, the new EU regulations are likely to come into effect in 2023.