A Fianna Fáil MEP has said that the new requirements contained in the European Commission’s proposal on animal transport will be both “problematic and costly” for Irish farmers and exporters.

Billy Kelleher was commenting after the European Commission published its long-awaited revision of the 2005 Animal Transport Regulation.

The proposals would see a minimum age of five weeks and minimum weight 50kg for unweaned calves to be transported.

There would also be a journey of nine hours maximum for animals transported for slaughter under these proposals.

In what the commission has called “the biggest reform of EU animal welfare rules during transport in 20 years”, the proposals reflect “the latest scientific evidence…and technological developments”.

Animal transport proposals

MEP Kelleher has admitted that there are some positives in the commission’s proposal.

“There is an acceptance that time spent at sea should not be counted in any maximum journey time calculation,” he said.

“This is something that is massively important for Ireland as an island member state and that I fought to get recognised in my work on the ANIT Committee [Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport].

“However, I am concerned at the maximum journey time for unweaned calves being set at nine hours.

“The average journey time from the ferry port in Cherbourg to the major markets in the north of the Netherlands is approximately 12-13 hours,” he explained.

While Kelleher said that there is an ability to extend the journey time for an additional nine hours, he added that it would require a massive overhaul of, and investment in, truck feeding technology to allow milk or milk replacer be fed to the animals.

“Additionally, the increase in the minimum age for transport from 14 days to 35 days will be problematic and expensive for farmers,” he continued.

“Additional labour costs will be incurred to ensure animal welfare on farm, and extra housing will be needed to enable the animals to be kept on farm for the extra three weeks.

“New EU money will be required to support farmers – existing CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] money cannot be re-allocated.”

The MEP said that the European Parliament and the European Council will begin their own parallel deliberations, including amendments in the New Year.

“As someone who fought to enhance animal welfare standards and to protect the ability of Irish farmers to transport their animals to the continent as part of the Animal Transport Committee, I will be tabling amendments to find a more balanced approach on some of these issues,” Kelleher concluded.