Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has played down concerns next year will see a glut of calves on the Irish market with resultant concerns for animal welfare over expanding exports abroad to supply veal markets.
Mr Creed said much of the narrative surrounding the birth of 1.5 million spring calves was inaccurate, giving an impression there will greater exports of animals with concerns over their welfare during transport.
"We deal with this issue every year. The herd is up marginally on last year when we dealt with it successfully and this year we will export around 200,000 bull calves to the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and other EU countries."
Mr Creed said many parties were involved in the export of calves – marts, exporters and ferry companies – while the trade was monitored by the competent authorities in destination countries as well as animal welfare groups.
“We need to make sure that, in so far as we control some of those issues, we are committed to the highest standards in terms of animal welfare and the industry knows the market won’t tolerate welfare lapses.”
Mr Creed said he recently visited the Netherlands where he met Dutch veal buyers who import around 80,000 Irish calves every year. He said while they were satisfied with the product, there are concerns about their transport.
“The message was clear, they are happy with the quality of the Irish calf but there are concerns around the transport issues and we need to make sure that if we are to safeguard that industry that we adhere to the highest standards.”
Mr Creed was speaking at the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association AGM in Limerick where ICMSA president, Pat McCormack also addressed the issue of animal welfare in relation to the calf export business.
Mr McCormack said the ICMSA would not tolerate mistreatment of animals and he said farmers were as disturbed as the general public over a video of Irish calf exports which circulated earlier this year.
The video released in May by French and Dutch animal welfare groups, Eyes on Animals and L214 showed Irish calves being physically abused, kicked, dragged by the ears, thrown and stamped on by workers at a control post in Cherbourg.
The footage prompted an outcry in both France and Ireland and led to the arrest of one person in France while the Dept of Agriculture condemned "in the strongest terms any ill treatment of livestock".
Mr McCormack said it was imperative that the issue was dealt with promptly and properly and he believed Irish farmers and exporters were aware of the importance of proper welfare standards.
Joe Burke of Bord Bia said 45 per cent of calves born this year will be beef animals and 200,000 of these will be exported, marking a 25 per cent increase on last year's figures with some 80,000 going to the Dutch market and 50,000 to Spain.