Cows might fly: Ireland to jet calves to Europe to cut travel time

Expanding dairy herds have seen surplus male calves shipped to the continent for veal, but there is unease over welfare conditions…

Irish authorities have announced plans to fly unweaned dairy calves from Ireland to other EU destinations from May, in an effort to address growing unease about the length of the journeys made by thousands of animals shipped each year to mainland Europe.

The Irish government has been subject to sustained scrutiny over live calf exports and the decision to experiment with flights, which will significantly cut travel time, comes as a European parliament committee of inquiry examines alleged failures across Europe in enforcing rules on protecting transported animals.

Ireland’s 1.6 million dairy herd is ever-expanding and the country is grappling with increasing numbers of calves born each spring. About 750,000 male dairy calves are born each year. Most are sold into the domestic beef sector, but approximately 30,000 are slaughtered, while 200,000 are earmarked for live export by road and sea for veal production on the continent.

It is the fate of these 200,000 calves – some transported at 14 days of age – that is of increasing concern to Irish authorities, amid continued criticism from animal welfare campaigners who claim the rules governing calf transport are routinely flouted. They say Irish calves have experienced “nightmare journeys” without access to water or food.

The Dutch government has continued to push for an EU-wide ban on journeys over eight hours for all unweaned animals. The Guardian has learned that the Dutch agriculture minister has communicated to the country’s veal calf industry that it should “sharply reduce and eventually stop” all imports of calves from faraway farms. The Netherlands is a key export market for Ireland’s unweaned calves.

Farming groups have welcomed the air trial. “We want to see calves flying out of this country,” the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, Tim Cullinan, told the Irish parliament in December. He said while the cost of…..

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