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Holly Cairns TD

We cannot – and should not – tolerate a situation in which hundreds and thousands of calves are being bred to suffer from the moment of birth

The shocking maltreatment of bull calves highlighted by RTÉ Investigates tonight is a direct consequence of Government policy to encourage intensification and expansion within the dairy sector, according to Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns.

Deputy Cairns, who is the party’s spokesperson on agriculture, said:

“The harrowing scenes of cruelty depicted in the programme will have been viewed with disgust by the majority of those working in the dairy sector or by anyone who cares about animal welfare.

“The footage of young calves being kicked, hit with sticks and thrown from trailers was deeply distressing to watch and highlights the need for more thorough inspections of marts around the country.

“Equally disturbing was the sight of calves having to go without milk for up to 21 hours while being transported by road and sea to mainland Europe to cater for the veal market on the continent.

“The programme revealed how the calves received minimal breaks during their torturous journey and were not rested for mandatory periods, as set under EU regulations. In addition, driver time limits were also alleged to have been breached.

“There has been a surge in the number of bull calves – largely viewed as valueless waste products – born in Ireland each year since milk quotas were abolished in 2015, which has resulted in the rapid expansion of the dairy sector.

“But we cannot – and should not – tolerate a situation in which hundreds and thousands of calves are being bred to suffer from the moment of birth.

“There are practical measures that can be taken to address the problem of unwanted calves. The use of sexed semen, for instance, can increase the numbers of dairy female replacements and reduce the numbers of dairy bull calves born.

“In our alternative budget last year, the Social Democrats proposed the removal of VAT from sexed semen to incentivise more viable breeding practices. Given the scale of the problems revealed by RTÉ Investigates, it is clear that the Government now needs to do even more than just this.

“What we have seen tonight is a direct consequence of a Government policy that has pushed intensification and maximum production within the dairy sector. This failed model has also resulted in the pollution of our pristine waterways, the degrading of our soil and an increase in emissions.

“It is not enough for the Department of Agriculture to say it will carry out an investigation into the breaches of animal welfare regulations identified by RTÉ. While Department officials are present at mart sales, it appears they have taken no action to date. There must also be an acknowledgement that the entire dairy sector – and breeding practices in particular – need to be re-examined.

“As a country, we have always been so proud of our agricultural sector. In fact, it is the perception of Irish agriculture abroad that makes the sector so valuable. However, what we have witnessed on television tonight is shameful and should be a watershed moment for the Department of Agriculture in moving away from its current failed policy approach.”


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