Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has rejected a call from Green Party MEP Grace O'Sullivan for a ban on live animal exports from Ireland over animal welfare concerns.
The Ireland South MEP called for the ban following the death of 14,000 sheep when an animal export vessel, the Queen Hind, capsized last month in the Black Sea on its way from the Romanian port of Midia to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
"These live exports shouldn't be happening. The case in Romania proves a point to an extent, but we know for years that it isn't a good way to bring animals, particularly in Ireland's case, from Ireland to Libya.
"Why wouldn't we process the meat in Ireland if we are exporting, and enable the jobs in Ireland and then send the meat abroad?" said Ms O'Sullivan, a former senator who was elected to the European Parliament last May.
But Mr Creed firmly rejected any such moves. He said in the first instance, unlike Romania, Ireland exports very few sheep, with the export of bovines accounting for the vast majority of Irish live animal exports.
“I absolutely reject Grace O’Sullivan’s call to stop live exports because our exports are based on the highest welfare standards and I believe it is possible to continue that trade, having animal welfare at the heart of it,” he said.
Mr Creed said that Bord Bia figures showed that live cattle exports from Ireland had risen from 243,000 in 2018 to 295,000 in 2019 with calves accounting for almost 200,000 of this year’s exports.
The lifting of milk quotas in 2015, resulting in the expansion of the dairy herd had led to significant increase in the number of calves and other EU countries were very important in terms of providing an export market for bull calves.
According to Bord Bia figures, the industry, which is estimated to be worth up to €300 million in 2019, saw some 233,000 animals exported to continental EU countries, a further 38,000 to the UK with 28,000 going to non-EU countries.
Within the EU, more than 90,000 animals went to Spain and over 84,000 to the Netherlands while Italy accounted for 30,000 and France accounted for almost 8,000 with the majority of animals in each case being calves.
Outside of the EU, Libya which accounted for more than 11,000 animals and Turkey which accounted for over 10,000 were the biggest export markets for Irish animals in 2019, according to Bord Bia.
Mr Creed said the live export of calves in particular was very significant and had a key role to play in terms of ensuring competition in the market place for Irish farmers and the Government was committed to maintaining the trade.
"Certainly Fine Gael in government has a clear commitment to live exports and in fact it has increased over the last number of years but only on the basis that it operates to the highest welfare statements and that's critically important.
"In the context of our European Union trade, we operate to the highest standards, not just EU standards but EU Plus standards and we do that because the importance of that sector to the Irish agri-food economy is so significant.
“Obviously in terms of jurisdictional reach, we don’t control the welfare standards in non-EU countries but in recent years, we make a substantial financial contribution to the OIE, the World Organisation for Animal Health.
“The OIE is the international body with responsibility for Animal Welfare issues and therefore we work with members of OIE, such as Libya and Turkey where we send exports, in order to raise welfare standards and awareness.”