Many of those criticising me for my stance on the issue of animal transport would have you believe two things. First, that only their proposals can improve animal welfare standards and secondly, that it is impossible to have high animal welfare standards and still enable farmers and transporters to move and export their animals.

I firmly believe they are wrong and are being deeply unfair and judgmental towards farmers and those involved in the sector.

This week, the European Parliament will meet to debate and discuss a new set of recommendations drawn up by a Committee of Inquiry into the protection of animals during transport (ANIT), of which I am a member.

There are over 100 paragraphs of proposals aimed at addressing current shortcomings in welfare during transport in order to reduce the stress animals experience.

animal transport by Billy Kelleher
Billy Kelleher in the EP in Strasbourg

Animal transport recommendations

I support about 95% of the recommendations because I believe that, across Europe, we do need to increase animal welfare standards, and to stamp out any cruel practices that cause suffering to animals. 

A number of tragic events in recent years underlines that standards must be improved.

I have supported the presence of veterinarians on boats for the full duration of all sea journeys, increased requirements for training of drivers and handlers, and greater investment in new technologies to regulate temperature and humidity on trucks.

Furthermore, I also believe we must treat end of career animals better. Crucially, we must ensure that anyone who breaks the law is investigated and then sanctioned appropriately. 

The entire industry will suffer if a small number of transporters continue to breach the regulations. Despite Ireland having some of the best standards in the European Union (EU), breaches in other parts of the EU mean that we will all sink or swim together.

These changes will be challenging. Additional EU funds will be necessary to support farmers and transporters alike during the transition.

However, I firmly believe that if we do not make some changes, we will put at risk our ability to transport and export live animals in the long-term.

All of us – farmers, transporters, member organisations and public representatives – must adapt to the changes that are coming down the tracks.

Our objective must be to ensure the application of the highest possible animal welfare standards whilst protecting the long-term viability of our live export industry, and enable farmers to go about their daily work without unnecessary headaches.

Other proposals

However, two proposals from Green MEPs and others regarding animal transport sought to upset the delicate balance achieved during negotiations. They were passed by the slimmest of majorities: 16-15 at committee stage.

One would ban the transport of pregnant animals in the last trimester and the other would ban the transport of unweaned calves under 35 days completely, and place a two-hour maximum journey time for unweaned animals older than 35 days.

These proposals would be catastrophic for Irish agriculture and that is why I opposed them before Christmas, and why I am tabling new proposals to replace them.

Higher standards of welfare during transport can be realised without resorting to actions that will devastate the sector. That said, I cannot stress enough that maintaining the status quo is no longer possible.

My alternative proposals would restrict transport of unweaned animals under 28 days and would be greater oversight and protections when transporting pregnant animals in the last trimester. I appreciate that this will place additional demands on farmers.

However, I believe we can find the solutions needed to mitigate the impact, and the alternative as proposed by the Greens would be industry-ending if implemented.

Vote on animal transport proposals

This week’s vote is an important part of the process in terms of reviewing and revising Regulation 1/2005 – the EU legislation that governs how we transport animals in the EU.

It is crucial that we ensure that the parliament’s position is not too extreme. Otherwise, the European Commission will take this as a signal that there is an appetite among MEPs for some of the drastic changes being proposed by Green and left MEPs.

MEP Billy Kelleher animal transport
MEP Billy Kelleher at the European Parliament

The vote will be incredibly tight – it will go down to the wire so every vote will count. The Green and left MEPs are very united on this issue and it may come down to one or two votes either way.

It is very rare that Ireland’s 13 MEPs can play a kingmaker role, but this week is that opportunity. Please reach out to your local Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or independent MEPs and ask them to support the combined Renew Europe, EPP and S&D amendments.

As I said at the outset and throughout the entire debate on this issue in the parliament, I firmly believe it is possible to improve animal welfare standards and maintain an industry that has served Irish agriculture well over the last number of decades.

Lives and livelihoods are at stake. A balance can be found, and I am confident that my proposals being voted on do just that.