‘Repugnant’ footage highlighting alleged animal welfare breaches will be investigated

In response to RTÉ documentary, Charlie McConalogue says vast majority of calves treated with respect in dairy sector

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue have condemned footage highlighting alleged breaches of animal welfare laws in the dairy industry broadcast during an RTÉ Investigates programme.

Mr Varadkar said the clips in the documentary, Milking It: Dairy’s Dirty Secret, which showed young calves being kicked, slapped and struck with rods during their delivery to and shipping from some cattle marts, were “repugnant”.

He and Mr McConalogue said the issues raised would be investigated by the Department of Agriculture.

In response to Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said connecting animal cruelty to the expansion of the dairy sector was “a little simplistic”.


Ms Cairns said the Government needed to acknowledge that a change in approach from “blindly driving the expansion and intensification of dairy is desperately needed” because Ireland’s “green brand” is so important to all kinds of exports.

The programme stated that due to an oversupply of bull calves within the Irish farming sector, a “gap in the system” has been cultivated and resulted in these instances of alleged animal cruelty.

Bull calves are seen by some within the industry as a financial burden, as they do not provide milk and often yield tougher meat. Figures featured in the programme suggest that more than 30,000 bull calves had been killed already this year.

The issue of live transit was also dealt with in the documentary, which highlighted the conditions endured by some cattle while they are exported on to the continent. People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy called for a Dáil debate to take place on Thursday regarding the issues raised in the programme.

Speaking at the launch of the Dublin Horse Show at the RDS on Tuesday, Mr McConalogue said: “These instances [of alleged animal abuse] happened and they’re intolerable and they’ll be fully investigated. But we’ll also be looking at what steps should be taken to make sure that these types of things can’t happen again.”

The Minister said he wished to stress that the alleged breaches of animal welfare law featured in the programme were isolated incidents. He said his department is investigating the matters raised and it would be “vigorously pursued”.

“What we shouldn’t lose sight of here is that in the vast, vast majority of instances, animals are treated, and rightfully so, with full respect and that has certainly been my own experience with my own eyes over my lifetime, and currently, too. I’d be in and out of marts all of the time, not just in a ministerial capacity,” he said.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association said the State’s “18,000 dairy farmers were not culpable for abuses perpetrated by a few”.

Mr McConalogue said his department carries out “many random inspections” in relation to Irish marts. More than 1,000 of these have been undertaken since the start of 2021, with 96 revealing breaches of animal welfare legislation. When asked how many of these breaches had resulted in fines or convictions, the Minister was unable to give an exact figure.

Mr McConalogue said the cattle industry relied heavily upon trust regarding the welfare and proper treatment of animals.

He said animal “health and welfare is also very important in terms of the economics of farming, as well as the actual ethics of farming, and certainly we saw breaches of that last night, which is simply unacceptable”.

There have recently been calls at European Union levels to ban the practice of live animal exports, but Mr McConalogue would not be drawn on this. He reiterated his wish for the current rules and regulations to be followed by those operating in the livestock industry.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times