The European Parliament is set to vote on animal transport proposals in Strasbourg this Thursday, the results of which could have a major impact on Irish farmers and exporters.

The parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT) put forward a series of recommendations last month which will now go before the full Parliament.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, the Irish Farmers Journal has looked at what you need to know.

ANIT recommendations could see a ban on the transport of unweaned calves below 35 days old. / Donal O' Leary

What is ANIT?

The European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT) was formed to conduct an inquiry into alleged violations in the application of EU law governing live animal transports.

The current legislation on animal transport in the EU, Council regulation 1/2005, has been in place since 25 January 2005 and will run until 14 December 2022.

The regulation has faced significant pressure from animal rights groups over its 15-year lifespan with one Irish MEP stating “we’ve done well to have it last until now”.

The regulation has been criticised for a series of alleged breaches including a lack of inspections and a lack of space, food and water for animals during transport.

The calf export sector could be faced with new proposals as early as 2024. / Donal O' Leary

ANIT has consulted with a series of veterinary, animal welfare, transport and agricultural experts over the past 18 months and based off its findings in relation to these alleged breaches, has now formed a series of recommendations in a report to be progressed to the European Commission.

Billy Kelleher MEP is the only Irish full member of the ANIT committee. He is joined by 29 other MEPs from across the EU. Colm Markey MEP is a substitute member.

What’s in the ANIT proposals?

On 2 December 2021, the ANIT committee voted by a margin of 16 to 15 to put forward a series of animal transport proposals. Some of the most restrictive of these were tabled by what Billy Kelleher MEP has described as “green and left leaning” MEPs at the last minute.

The proposals include a complete ban on the transport of unweaned animals under 35 days, a maximum journey time of two hours for unweaned animals over this age and a ban on the transport of pregnant animals in the last third of gestation.

These proposals would also apply to the transport of animals within Ireland.

The proposals would mean that a farmer would not be permitted to move dairy calves from their farm of birth until they are five weeks old. After these 35 days, there would then be a maximum journey time limit of two hours for such calves. This would mean five-week-old calves could not be bought in Kerry and transported to counties greater than two hours away.

ANIT also recommends a ban on the transport of heavily in lamb ewes. \ Houston Green

The proposals would also impact the trade of in calf cows and in lamb ewes. While the exact detail is not yet clear, it would mean a cow more than six months in calf could not be loaded and transported to a mart or moved through a farm-to-farm sale.

Within this, it would also mean that a flock of ewes on an out farm could not be transported back to a home farm during the last few weeks of gestation.

ANIT also recommends that local rearing and short supply chains should be encouraged particularly on island and in the outermost regions of the EU.

The committee is also calling on the member states to promote “mobile slaughterhouses” in island areas to reduces the road and sea transport of live animals.

What happens now?

Having reviewed the recommendations of the ANIT committee, the full European Parliament must now vote to approve the reports progression to the European Commission.

This debate and vote will take place at around 10am on Thursday morning and all 705 MEPs will have a vote.

MEPs have an opportunity to table amendments to the proposed animal recommendations and these will also be debated and voted on, on Thursday, ahead of the final vote.

What are the proposed amendments?

A number of amendments have been tabled and agreed to by some of the European Parliament’s largest political blocks.

The European Peoples Party (EPP), of which Fine Gael MEPs are a part of, and Socialists and Democrats groupings have co-signed amendment one.

This will specify that the transport of unweaned animals will not to be transported before they are 28 days old, rather than the 35 days in the current recommendation. It also adds an exception that unweaned animals can travel in cases where the distance to be travelled is less than 50km.

The EPP and Socialists and Democrats groupings have also co-signed amendment two. This will ensure pregnant animals in the last third of gestation can travel a maximum of four hours, as opposed to the outright ban in the current text.

Amendments three and four, which have been proposed by Billy Kelleher MEP on behalf of his Renew Europe group, contain the same wording as the first two amendments.

What is likely to happen?

The three groupings which have agreed to support these amendments, Renew Europe, European Peoples Party and the Socialists and Democrats make up a total of 524 MEPs. This represents over 70% of the full Parliament.

However, although these groups may have agreed a position, each individual MEP is not bound to support the amendments in Thursday’s vote.

Brussels sources indicate that the split nature of the original ANIT committee vote on the proposals by a close margin of 16 to 15 is likely to be repeated.

Regardless of the adoption of the amendments or not, the proposals set to be progressed to the European Commission are likely to still have a major impact on animal transport.

The 28-day barrier for the transport of unweaned calves will still affect the calf export market, according to those in the sector.

Over 150,000 head of Irish calf exports could be impacted by Thursday's vote. / Claire Nash

Next steps

Once agreed by the European Parliament, the ANIT animal transport recommendations will then go to the European Commission for review.

The European Commission will consider the practicalities of the report and from there it must go through the co-legislative procedure.

It is at this point where Ireland may seek and be granted a derogation which would take into account the country’s island and geographical status on the periphery of Europe which makes longer transport of livestock a requirement when gaining access to the single market, according to Colm Markey MEP.

It is understood that the proposals may not come into effect until 2024.

For live updates on Thursday’s vote, follow the Irish Farmers Journal online.

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