The future of Ireland’s vital calf export trade is being jeopardised by the poor enforcement of animal transport and welfare regulations in some EU countries, Billy Kelleher MEP has claimed.

Retaining the crucial continental market for dairy calves was proving a “significant challenge” Kelleher maintained, and had been made more difficult by the “catastrophic failure” of some EU member states to enforce and adhere to existing animal transport regulations.

The MEP cautioned that increased supervision and standards – including the possibility of veterinary staff travelling on boats carrying calves – will be necessary to safeguard the export trade into the future.

The Ireland South MEP is a member of the European Parliament’s Commission of Inquiry into the Protection of Animals during Transport.

Some countries have no enforcement standards

He said there was “huge resistance and opposition” within the committee to the transport of unweaned calves.

An ingrained negative perception of the trade had not been helped by the failure of some member states to enforce existing regulations, he added.

“Some countries have no enforcement standards, there is little veterinary oversight, there is very little supervision in general, and there are a lot of [animal] welfare issues,” Kelleher explained.

“If the welfare standards that were in previous regulations were enforced across the European Union, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in now,” he commented.

Whether it’s a vet or a person trained to an agreed level of competence is an issue that can be debated

Kelleher said he was working to secure an exception for island nations like Ireland on reduced animal transport times, but warned that stricter regulations were inevitable.

These are likely to include higher standards for calf transport vehicles, more training for drivers and greater veterinary oversight on ships carrying livestock and livestock trucks.

“There will have to be strong veterinary oversight, absolutely,” he said.

“Whether it’s a vet or a person trained to an agreed level of competence is an issue that can be debated,” he added.

The MEP said Ireland had little to fear from higher standards, given the country’s track record of compliance with animal welfare regulations.

Ireland exports around 140,000 calves to the continent each year.