The European Parliament has voted to support amendments to animal transport proposals in Strasbourg on Thursday.

Amendments were accepted that will seek to reduce the age at which calves cannot be transported to 28 days, rather than the originally proposed 35, except in the case of transport carried out by farmers for a distance of less than 50km.

An amendment which would see the transport of animals in the last third of gestation restricted to a maximum of four hours, rather than an outright ban, was also agreed.

Another amendment tabled by Green MEPs, which would have seen an eight-hour time limit on all animal transport on land and a 24-hour limit at sea, was rejected.

While less restrictive than some of the original proposals put forward by the parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT), the measures are still likely to affect Irish farmers and exporters, according to a Brussels source.

The ANIT proposals were debated by MEPs on Thursday morning. The Irish Farmers Journal understands that the majority of Ireland’s MEPs will now vote to approve the amended report.

Views on pros and cons

Billy Kelleher MEP

Speaking in Strasbourg ahead of the vote on his proposed amendments, Cork-based farmer Billy Kelleher MEP said that while he “very much welcomes” measures to improve animal welfare, there has been “catastrophic failure” when it comes to the EU’s enforcement of current animal transport welfare regulations.

He said that the European Commission has to ensure the current measures, Council Regulation 1/2005, are robustly enforced.

Kelleher, a full member of the ANIT committee, said animal rights and farmers can work in tandem. He called for regulations that are based on reality and scientific evidence.

Describing the role of agriculture in Europe, he said: “We can’t make theme parks out of our rural communities.”

He outlined how farmers supply food to Europe and said the proposed new measures “can’t be a one size fits all”.

Colm Markey MEP

Addressing his fellow MEPs, Colm Markey MEP highlighted how experts have recognised the “particularly high standards” seen in the transport of animals from Ireland.

Like Kelleher, Markey said that Europe must improve animal transport welfare standards for countries “which are non-compliant”.

He called for the use of new technology, including GPS tracking, temperature checks and priority lanes, in order to better enforce and improve current standards.

However, Markey said the transport proposals cannot “tie farmers' hands”.

He said the expectation that Irish farmers would have no choice but to move calves to holding centres at five weeks of age is “unworkable and not thought out”.

The Fine Gael MEP described how farmers have a love for and care for the animals they work with.

He called on MEPs to “stick to the science and recognise the original proposals put forward by the committee [the amendments]”.

He said farmers are relying on the European Parliament “to get this right”.

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EU animal transport vote: What you need to know