Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. Whilst trade is a commercial activity on the part of private individuals, my Department facilitates this trade, recognising its importance to the agri-food sector, while placing a strong emphasis at all times on the welfare of animals being transported.
In 2018, overall live exports of cattle increased by over 30% compared to 2017, to 246,000 head. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports at 279,000 head to mid-November, up 20% in relation to the same period last year. Exports of calves have increased by nearly 25% year-on-year, to 197,261 to date in 2019.
My Department will continue to prioritise efforts to deepen existing markets and gain access to new markets. Last month, I led a trade mission to the Netherlands to meet the main importers of Irish calves. All parties emphasised the importance of calf welfare during transport, and Dutch industry representatives reported that Irish calves travel and arrive in very good condition.
With regard to lairage capacity in Cherbourg, my Department have worked closely with the French authorities, and earlier this year, the French authorities approved an increase in holding capacity of the Qualivia 2 Control Post in Cherbourg. This provided for additional daily capacity for 400 animals, providing additional capacity of some 1,200 animals per week. I have encouraged all stakeholders involved in the export trade to liaise with commercial lairage operators in Cherbourg with the aim of developing further capacity.
The recent establishment of the Irish Livestock Exporters' Association is to be welcomed. This body can represent the industry’s views, not just to my Department, but also to ferry companies, port authorities, lairage operators and other stakeholders. At its request, I met the new Association in September to discuss a number of industry concerns and members of the Association accompanied me on my recent trade mission to the Netherlands.
With regard to welfare during transport, on 5th December I issued a notice informing live exporters and transporters of amendments to my Department's transport policy with regard to cattle and sheep. These include a range of measures such as increasing the minimum space allowance in vehicles for calves and setting longer rest periods in control posts in Cherbourg. Full details are available on my Department's website at the following link