Export of live pigs from Ireland would be terrible for environment – Babe actor

Minister for Agriculture: Any animals exported would be of high value and handled carefully

An actor who starred in the classic film Babe who has pleaded with the Minister for Agriculture to halt plans for exporting live pigs to China has said he thinks it would be "a terrible idea for Ireland".

In a letter to Charlie McConalogue, activist and actor James Cromwell – whose screen credits include The Green Mile, LA Confidential, The Queen, Spider-Man and, most recently, Succession – condemned the export of live animals generally as a "stain on humanity" and the export of live pigs to China in particular as "both unnecessary and cruel".

China ramped up imports of breeding pigs last year to meet surging demand after the country’s herd was decimated by the deadly African swine fever.

In recent weeks, the Minister confirmed that an agreement had been reached with the Chinese authorities to pave the way for the export of breeding pigs from Ireland to China.

Mr Cromwell’s letter was first reported in The Irish Times on Saturday.

Speaking on RTÉ's Claire Byrne show on Monday night, Mr Cromwell said: "I think it's a terrible idea for Ireland, for the number of pigs that are going to be transported and slaughtered, for the environment."

“You can’t put pigs in some sort of transportation vehicle, whether it’s a plane or a ship, and pack them in and say that it’s humane. They feel pain, they feel suffering, they suffer like us and it shouldn’t be done to any creature.”

Mr Cromwell said he became a vegan after working with animals on Babe and is now an animal rights activist involved with Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

He said shipping pigs via air would “contribute to the end of this planet”.

In a statement to the Claire Byrne programme, Mr McConalogue said no live pigs have been exported from Ireland to China. He said that should the trade opportunity arise, any animals exported would be of high value and high genetic merit and would be handled particularly carefully by their owners and transporters.

‘Great privilege’

In his letter, Mr Cromwell had said: “I had the great privilege and pleasure of learning about pigs when I starred in the movie Babe. They’re fascinating animals who possess a remarkable capacity for love and joy – as well as sorrow.

“I was therefore shocked to hear about your plans to export these wonderful animals from Ireland to China, where they’ll be used as breeding machines. And I urge you, on behalf of kind people everywhere, to reconsider,” he continued.

He argued that treating pigs as cargo – forcing them to endure a long journey in cramped cages while exposing them to excessive noise and changes in air pressure – is both unnecessary and cruel, and would cause immense stress to these sensitive animals.

He concluded by saying that “pigs deserve better than this”, and pleaded with Mr McConalogue to “see that shipping pigs abroad does not align with the friendly spirit Ireland is known for” and to “do the right thing and reverse this decision. Better still, ban the live export trade – a stain on humanity – entirely.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times