A series of recommendations from a European Parliament committee on calf transport “poses a serious threat to the Irish dairy sector”, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

Stephen Arthur, the association’s dairy chairperson, said the recommendation from the parliament’s Committee on Inquiry on the Protection of Animals During Transport (ANIT) would be “devastating” for the sector.

The ANIT Committee will bring forward recommendations to a full session of the parliament early in the new year which, if adopted in their current form, will see the end of transport of calves under five weeks of age.

According to Arthur, the recommendation poses a significant threat to trade of calves from Ireland to Europe.

“Our calves are highly sought after in the European market as they are more robust and healthier then calves from other European countries,” he said.

He added: “Calf welfare remains of the utmost importance. However, these proposals are excessive and unnecessary, given the very strong credentials of Irish calf exports.”

Arthur pointed out that IFA representatives visited the Netherlands (one of the main markets for Irish calves that are going abroad) in October, saying that the feedback received was “very positive” on the health of exported Irish calves.

“Intra-community trade [trade between EU member states] is the cornerstone upon which the EU has been built on.”

“Recommendations that disrupt the transport of animals and disrupt journey times leave Ireland at a competitive disadvantage merely because of its geographic location in Europe,” he argued.

“We cannot be treated unfairly. Compliance with enhanced regulations to improve conditions during transport would be a more practical solution than an outright ban,” the IFA dairy chair concluded.

The IFA’s comments follow similar concerns raised by other farm organisations, as well as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

Speaking at the AGM of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) last Friday (December 3) – the day after the ANIT Committee vote – the minister said: “It is clear to see that the pressure is there in the market, with interest groups who are now fighting science with an ideology.

“I’m not saying the writing is on the wall and I will continue to be a real advocate for live exports, but I am saying that this is a real hot topic and a massive challenge, and one we have to be very alert to. Anyone who thinks we will have exports of unweaned calves forever is sorely mistaken,” Minister McConalogue warned.