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Animal Welfare (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue] We are asking the Minister for an update on the plans he and his Department are putting in place to ensure there is capacity within the system to cater for 1.5 million dairy calves, the majority of which are likely to be born in February and March 2020. Earlier this year, there was somewhat of a haphazard approach from the Department to ensure live export routes were operating to capacity. It is essential that the Minister works next year with live exporters to ensure the routes are in place and the highest welfare standards are maintained on those routes.

Farmers, by their disposition, want to care for their animals and ensure the highest welfare standards are followed. The Department must ensure there is tight monitoring to prevent breaches of the welfare standards. In particular, calf mortality on farms should be closely monitored. It is in everybody's interest to ensure, without exception, that the welfare of animals should be paramount. Farmers expect and demand it, and it is essential the Minister should take every step in his power to ensure there is adequate oversight and that the welfare of animals is to the fore at all times.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill I agree that welfare standards are paramount for everybody involved in the beef industry. It is essential that we protect our justified image as sustainable food producers. The produce of every dairy farmer is quality assured and welfare is a prime requisite of that quality. The modern consumer demands high standards of us and we can show that we are meeting those standards.

It is vital that we maintain our live export outlets to the Continent and get out the maximum number of calves this coming spring. We have had a summer and autumn of discontent in the beef industry and the live export outlet is essential to keep competition in the trade. It is obvious that we must reduce the number of cattle that are available for slaughter if we are to ensure a viable and commercial price. Last spring, there was a backlog and logjam in live exports getting to the Continent. This coming spring, the calving is likely to be more crammed than normal, thanks to the good weather we had earlier in the year. Lairage space, truck space and ship space are critical factors in maximising the number of calves that can be sent to the Continent for veal production. Everything that can be done in this regard must be done. The Minister will say that this is the responsibility of live exporters, to which I say that An Bord Bia also has an essential role in ensuring this outlet to market is maximised.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed): Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed I thank the Deputies for their questions. The welfare of all animals is a priority for my Department and we continue to engage with stakeholders to ensure the welfare of cattle born on dairy farms next spring is provided for appropriately. Further meetings between my Department and stakeholders are planned over the coming period, well in advance of the peak calving season. Several measures are being taken to ensure high calf welfare standards. Currently, calves may not be moved from their farm of birth or sold until they have reached at least ten days of age. This requirement is being further evaluated. Recognising that the numbers of dairy bull calves being traded in farm-to-farm sales has been falling off in recent years, the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, ICOS, and the marts are playing a key role in co-ordinating and linking dairy farmers and specialist calf rearers. The Irish Farmers Association, IFA, recently arranged a series of calf health and welfare seminars, while Teagasc and Animal Health Ireland, AHI, are providing further calf care seminars early next spring. A recently compiled AHI calf care booklet has been distributed to all co-operatives, and the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council, FAWAC, is finalising a new calf rearing advisory booklet.

My Department has engaged with exporters to ensure the welfare of calves being transported to the Continent and has advised them of updated standards and requirements. Live exports are a critical part of Ireland's livestock industry, stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. My Department facilitates this trade, recognising its importance to the agrifood sector, while placing a strong emphasis at all times on the welfare of the animals being transported. In 2018, overall total live exports of cattle, including calves, increased by more than 30% compared with 2017, to 246,000 head. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports already totalling 266,000 up to the week ending 19 October 2019. This increase reflects the incremental growth in the numbers of calves born on dairy farms but is also, in part, a consequence of the decision in 2017 to reduce the veterinary inspection fee payable on live exports of calves aged less than three months from €4.80 to €1.20.

The transport of calves requires the use of lairage facilities at Cherbourg and the development of additional lairage capacity there is a commercial matter for the export sector. However, officials from my Department met their French counterparts in the summer in Cherbourg and, during those discussions, the French authorities indicated that they would be willing to consider applications submitted for additional lairage capacity, should they arise. My officials are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters on the need for co-operative management to ensure that the lairage capacity at Cherbourg is optimised. I have urged the live export sector to consider developing an additional lairage in Cherbourg or engaging with the owners of existing facilities to explore the potential for additional capacity. This has proved possible, as evidenced by the French authorities' approval of an increase in the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg earlier this year. My Department worked closely with the French authorities in this matter. The move provided for additional daily capacity for 400 calves, bringing the total daily capacity to 4,400.

I met with exporters in September to discuss and review existing export procedures, and officials from my Department have had continued regular engagement with them. I visited the Netherlands recently with a delegation from An Bord Bia where we met with importers of Irish calves, who expressed strong satisfaction with the quality of Irish calves. Other market opportunities are being explored by An Bord Bia for older male dairy calves. My Department's veterinary inspectorate will continue to undertake its risk-based and random inspections across all industry locations to monitor compliance. I assure Deputies that calf welfare issues are being accorded the highest priority within my Department.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I thank the Minister for his response. It is clear in hindsight, with the removal of quotas in the dairy sector, that insufficient thought was given by the Department and national agencies to the impact that change would have on the beef sector in particular. We have seen some of that impact in the prices that have prevailed in recent times and in the increased number of dairy bull calves. There is clearly a need to develop new markets. Teagasc admitted recently that sufficient consideration was not given to the market outlets for dairy bull calves as a result of dairy expansion.

As I said in my initial contribution, farmers expect and deliver the highest of welfare standards for their animals. Consumers, too, expect the highest of standards. It is essential from both their perspectives that there be clear oversight by the Department to prevent any exceptions to or breaches of those standards. Will the Minister provide clarity regarding the oversight exercised by his Department to ensure there are no individual farmers breaching the standards which consumers and fellow farmers expect?

Finally, it is time for the Department address the issues in regard to cross-bred Jersey-Friesian calves, for which there is little beef value. We must ensure that the dairy and beef sectors work together in what is a circular process. The bull calves coming off the dairy herd must be capable of making a profit from a beef point of view.

Deputy Jackie Cahill: Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill On Deputy McConalogue's point regarding cross-bred calves, I am critical of the emphasis that was placed by Teagasc and the research farms on cross-breeding. A proper evaluation of the economic breeding index, EBI, must be done. I understand the EBI does not take account of the differential in culled cow value between the Friesian cow and the cross-bred cow or the variation in calf price.

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