‘Animal welfare comes first’ – says department in lairage row

In response to requests by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) to create more lairage capacity for dairy calves in Cherbourg, France, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has said it is “in continuous talks” with French authorities regarding the matter.

It also pointed out that the laws governing animal health and welfare would be to the fore, no matter how intense any requests for more space became.

In a statement the department said the minister has been in “continuous communication” with the French authorities regarding the provision of lairage.

This included a meeting with the French agriculture minister in Brussels yesterday (March 18).

A spokesperson continued: “Last week 400 extra spaces were announced; it is worth noting that calf exports to date are running 20% ahead of the same time last year – yet births are down 5,000 per head for the same period.

“The minister will not countenance the use of facilities not approved by the French authorities. Adherence to animal welfare law is critical for the protection of the trade.”

‘On the ground’

Last week, the IFA’s president Joe Healy was on the ground in Cherbourg where he determined that an additional 600 calves could be delivered within days “with some cooperation from the minister and the French authorities”.

By that stage – on March 12 – the department had already acknowledged the approval by French authorities of an increase in the holding capacity by 400 in one of the lairages.

It was following that, that the IFA’s president announced, “there was room to create a additional 600 spaces” in the area.

He then called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to “immediately begin” initiating the process.

Healy said Minister Creed must request that the French authorities approve an extension that would add the extra capacity in Cherbourg.

Increasing capacity

Healy continued: “With the additional 400 places announced late last week, it could increase capacity by 3,000 per week over three sailings to 15,000 calves per week.

Minister Creed must also allow the use, permitted in previous years, of the facility at Abbeville.

Healy went on to point out that Abbeville could act as an overflow lairage “in light of the backlog caused by the exceptional bad sailing weather” and could also accommodate 5,000 calves.

‘Broken promises’

Meanwhile, the IFA president pointed out that the minister had previously indicated that the ferry companies would sail on alternative days.

He said that information had since proven to be inaccurate because “there was now a capacity problem in Cherbourg”.

“Over 400 places came on stream in Cherbourg late last week; another lairage could potentially create another 600 places if approved by the French authorities. Minister Creed must engage with the French authorities to make this happen,” concluded Healy.