Unweaned calves being exported in breach of EU law, welfare group alleges

Journeys will cause suffering for most calves and the deaths of some, Ethical Farming Ireland claims

Unweaned calves are being transported from Ireland to continental Europe in land and sea journeys which can exceed 24 hours without receiving water, milk or milk replacer in breach of Irish and European law, an animal welfare organisation has claimed.

An expert report obtained by Ethical Farming Ireland (EFI) considered the journeys would cause “severe hunger, suffering and very poor welfare for most calves, and will cause disease, injury and death for some”.

EFI, having obtained some records last May via freedom-of-information (FOI) requests concerning the transport of live and unweaned calves from several locations around Ireland on dates in 2020, 2021 and 2022, alleges incomplete and inaccurate record-keeping of some journeys, including concerning the deaths of calves.

It claims the Department of Agriculture is unlawfully authorising the transport of unweaned calves as regulatory requirements regarding watering and feeding of the calves and record-keeping are allegedly not being met.


The department, it also says, is wrong to operate on the assumption that the live export journey is only a sea journey as that does not include long periods, often more than nine hours, during which calves are transported in trucks on land.

EFI, represented by Patrick McCann SC, with Harriet Burgess, instructed by Philip Lee solicitors, has initiated High Court proceedings against the Minister for Agriculture and the State over the alleged breaches. The court has directed its application for leave to bring the judicial review challenge should be made on notice to the State respondents and will be heard during the next court term.

EFI wants declarations that the department’s policy and practice concerning the export of unweaned calves breaches the Animal Welfare Act 2013, a European regulation of 2005 on the protection of animals during transport and causes injury and undue suffering to unweaned calves.

EFI says it has publicly expressed concerns over a long period about the export of live and unweaned calves from Ireland to the European continent. In 2020, it raised issues with the department about potential breaches of the 2005 European regulation concerning live animal exports but the department denied any breach.

EFI’s concerns included that unweaned calves may go for 24 hours or more without feed or water on live export journeys. Through FOI requests, it sought animal export journey logs from the department but says not all of the logs requested were provided to it and a number were described as missing.

From logs obtained for a number of journeys in 2020, 2021 and 2022, from several locations around the country, it is clear some journeys being approved can exceed 24 hours, EFI said.

One log indicated the total journey time for 334 calves which departed from Killarney for France on March 3rd, 2020, was 28 hours and 27 minutes, EFI says. Some logs stated “1 dead” or “2 dead” at the top of the logs but nothing was recorded under sections where information ought be to filled in about the number of dead calves after the journeys, EFI claims.

It claims some declarations by veterinary practitioners that the animals were fit for transport at the point of departure, as required by the 2005 regulation, could not have been correct due to incomplete record-keeping.

In correspondence with EFI, the department had said it was entirely satisfied it permits animals to be transported only in a manner that does not cause them injury or undue suffering and which complies with European law.

EFI says a report by an expert witness, Prof Donald Broom, expressed the view that the animals were being subject to undue suffering and injury as they cannot be fed or given liquid or water individually during the journeys. He reported that the journeys subject of the EFI complaints would cause severe hunger, suffering and very poor welfare for most calves, and would cause disease, injury and death for some.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times