<![CDATA[PAWS FOR THOUGHT - Dairy\'s Dirty Secret?... Not Really]]>Sun, 12 May 2024 09:04:37 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[Dairy's Dirty Secret?  Not Really...]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2023 13:47:05 GMThttp://fitzgeraldconstruction.ie/dairys-dirty-secret-not-really/dairys-dirty-secret-not-really
RTE’s recent exposé highlighting the objectionable treatment of Ireland's male dairy calves makes for harrowing viewing. The documentary followed the plight of male calves born on Irish dairy Farms, a so-called “byproduct” of the dairy industry, as they were transported from Ireland across the continent to veal farms in Spain, France, and the Netherlands. Video footage alleges to show days-old doe-eyed calves beaten and manhandled before being loaded on trucks and enduring punishing journeys without food or rest, apparently in contravention of EU law. While the title of the documentary ‘Dairy’s Dirty Secret’ implies some clandestine operation, conversely, the reality is that this is a controversial but well-documented and widely accepted practice.  

N.G.O.’s and animal welfare advocates have been campaigning tirelessly for several years to highlight, and put an end to, the live export of unweaned calves. A practice that was discontinued in Scotland in 2020 following what Compassion in World Farming (C.I.W.F.) described as a “gruelling legal battle” (1). C.I.W.F., with support from its followers, launched Judicial Review proceedings to challenge the lawfulness of the policy. In a similar move, Ethical Farming Ireland (E.F.I.) submitted an application for judicial review in July 2022. I contacted the director of E.F.I., Caroline Rowley, for an update on the legal proceedings. Caroline advised that the case is progressing, but it is unlikely that there will be a hearing before mid-2024. While these proceedings are a welcome development, they are of little comfort to the hundreds of thousands of unweaned calves forced to make the arduous trip in the interim.

Prior to launching legal action, E.F.I. submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission, as did fellow advocates Eyes on Animals (2, 3). Caroline informed me that both parties received the same response. The commission claimed that no evidence was provided to prove the calves were not being fed, which is astonishing as feeding them on board lorries is impossible. The first trial of transporting calves from Ireland to mainland Europe on a truck with onboard milk feeders took place last month, and the truck was a prototype brought over from Germany to facilitate the trial (4).
The biggest sticking point appears to be the interpretation of the EU Law, particularly with respect to Point 1.7 in section 1 of Chapter V of Annex I to the regulation, which states that “unweaned calves, lambs, kids and foals which are still on a milk diet and unweaned piglets must, after nine hours of travel, be given a rest period of at least one hour sufficient in particular for them to be given liquid and if necessary fed” (5). Necessary is the operative word.  In June 2021 Social Democrats TD Roisin Shorthall asked the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, why his department was authorising journeys for unweaned calves to continental Europe considering that the calves cannot be fed during transport, violating the aforementioned law. McConalogue simply answered that the legal interpretation that Shorthall quoted was not one that was shared by the Department (6).
Following the airing of Dairy’s Dirty Secret, McConalogue maintained that live calf exports are “important” adding that the key is that standards are employed and upheld in relation to the calves' welfare in transport (7). The government's position on the matter is clear, the exporting of unweaned calves is here to stay for now. So, what is the Government doing to mitigate the crisis? With a ban on calf imports from Ireland to the Netherlands looming, the current system is certainly not sustainable (8). From January 2024, milk processors have agreed they will not pay farmers who continue to cull healthy calves (9). Another welcome development, yet it does nothing to address the sheer number of surplus male calves. Sexed semen is being hailed as a solution, but is it the panacea people believe? It is certainly one of the more viable options. A 2021 study by Balzani et al into sexed semen as a solution to the surplus of male dairy calves in Ireland found that only one in six farmers believed that it justified the investment (10). Farmers’ attitudes towards farm animal welfare are influenced by financial restrictions and market incentives (11), and sexed semen is reportedly over 30% more expensive than conventional semen (12). That said, Teagasc reported a fast and marked increase in the uptake of sexed semen this year (13).
The downside of sexed semen is, firstly, that relying solely on sexed semen would limit the variability of the gene pool (12). Secondly, sexed semen is only 90% effective (14), so hypothetically, if all the dairy cows in Ireland were bred using sexed semen, there would still be over 150,000 surplus male dairy calves produced every year (12). When all factors are considered, Eyes on Animals director Lesley Moffet's suggestion in the documentary of establishing veal farms in Ireland isn’t such a disturbing idea. It would create a domestic market for ethical veal production.  Just think, how horrific must the live export process be for animal welfare advocates to suggest veal as a solution to a crisis… ​

  1. Compassion in World Farming, (2020, September 23rd). Scotland Halts Cruel Live Calf Exports. Compassion in World Farming. Available at: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/news/2020/09/scotland-halts-cruel-live-calf-exports#:~:text=We%20are%20pleased%20to%20announce,finally%20stopped%20live%20calf%20exports. [Accessed 2nd November 2023].
  2. O’ Faolain, A., (2022, July 18th). State is allowing calves to be transported to Europe in a cruel manner, claims NGO. The Journal.  Available at: https://www.thejournal.ie/cows-transport-animal-cruelty-high-court-5820364-Jul2022/#:~:text=Ethical%20Farming%20Ltd%20has%20brought,for%20Agriculture%20and%20the%20State.&text=THE%20STATE%20IS%20allowing%20calves,the%20High%20Court%20has%20heard. [Accessed 2nd November 2023].
  3. Kevany, S., (2020, September 5th). Irish cattle exports breach EU law Eyes on Animals Claim. The Times. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/irish-cattle-exports-breach-eu-law-eyes-on-animals-claims-ljx02fdmc  [Accessed 4th November 2023].
  4. O’ Brien, B., (2023, October 23rd). Calf export Lorry with ‘on-board milk feeders’ trialled. Agriland. Available at: https://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/video-calf-export-lorry-with-on-board-milk-feeders-trialled/   [Accessed 6th November 2023].
  5. COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 1/2005. (2004). on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97. Available at:  https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A32005R0001   [Accessed 7th November 2023].
  6. Shorhall, R., (2021, June 1st), “Livestock Issues”, Dail Eireann, Question 548. Available at: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2021-06-01/548/?highlight%5B0%5D=unweaned&highlight%5B1%5D=calves&highlight%5B2%5D=calves&highlight%5B3%5D=unweaned&highlight%5B4%5D=calves  [Accessed 2nd November 2023].
  7. Murphy, B., (2023, July 15th). Live calf exports are ‘important’ – McConalogue. Farmer’s Journal. Available at:  https://www.farmersjournal.ie/dairy/news/live-calf-exports-are-important-mcconalogue-774274  [Accessed 6th November 2023].
  8. Murphy, B., (2023, September 27th). Dutch parliament votes to ban calf imports. Farmer’s Journal. Available at:  https://www.farmersjournal.ie/dairy/news/dutch-parliament-votes-to-ban-calf-imports-785714  [Accessed 7th November 2023].
  9. O’ Brien, B., (2023, July 11th). 85% of dairy calves not exported or slaughtered in 2023. Agriland. Available at: https://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/85-of-dairy-calves-not-exported-slaughtered-in-2023/ [Accessed 7th November 2023].
  10. Balzani, A., Aparacida Vaz do Amaral, C., & Hanlon, A. (2021). A Perspective on the Use of Sexed Semen to Reduce the Number of Surplus Male Dairy Calves in Ireland: A Pilot Study. Frontiers in Veterinary Science7. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.623128 [Accessed 2nd November 2023].
  11. Balzani, A., & Hanlon, A. (2020). Factors that Influence Farmers' Views on Farm Animal Welfare: A Semi-Systematic Review and Thematic Analysis. Animals 10(9).  Available at:  https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091524 [Accessed 4th November 2023]
  12. Martin, R., (2023, March 29th). Farm View: Why sexed semen isn’t the cure-all for Ireland’s unwanted bull calves. Irish Examiner. Available at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/farming/arid-41104792.html [Accessed 6th November 2023].
  13. Shalloo, L. (2023, July 1st). Sexed semen in the Irish dairy industry. Teagasc. Available at: Dairy - Sexed semen in the Irish dairy industry - Teagasc | Agriculture and Food Development Authority [Accessed 1st November 2023].
  14. Butler, S.T., Hutchinson, I.A., Cromie, A.R., L. Shalloo, L., (2020). Applications and cost benefits of sexed semen in pasture-based dairy production systems, Animal, 8 (1), 165-172, Available at: :  https://doi.org/10.1017/S175173111400066 4[Accessed 1st November 2023].
Image sources as follows (With full usage rights):
File:Beware of the Calf (4741083175).jpg - Wikimedia Commons With credit to Archetype Fotografie.

Infographic – Authors own creation with data from: O’ Brien, B., (2023, July 11th). 85% of dairy calves not exported or slaughtered in 2023. Agriland. Available at: https://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/85-of-dairy-calves-not-exported-slaughtered-in-2023/ [Accessed 9th November 2023].