The Teagasc project to test the feasibility of transporting calves by air has been delayed due to cargo airline capacity being taken up with moving Covid-19 vaccines.

The ‘MOOVE’ research project – a joint initiative by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Wageningen University in the Netherlands – was due to see a trial flight this spring.

Speaking to the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on Protection of Animals in Transport last week, Rob Doyle – who is head of animal welfare at the department – said that the premise of the trial flight was to examine the impact of the process on calves and to compare air transportation to existing methods.

However, he explained that the air transport aspect of the MOOVE project is delayed for now.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in almost all freight airplanes in the world being taken up by transportation of Covid-19 vaccines, which is currently taking precedence over animal transport,” he noted.

Doyle also told the committee that there was generally a lack of peer-reviewed research into transporting calves by air.

He noted that Teagasc had not yet conducted an economic analysis of air transport versus road transport, but that it had recently completed “some preliminary work” that highlights air transport as potentially economically feasible.

However, the department official told MEPs that a reduction in the purchase price of calves would be needed to offset the additional cost of flying.

Doyle also highlighted that transporting calves by air would only be economically feasible “at scale”, meaning that “a large proportion” of Irish calves would need to be transported by air to make it economically attractive to a transporter.

He did note that transporting calves by air “is viewed by professionals with experience of both road and air transport as lower impact from a welfare perspective than more traditional modes of transport”.