An Irish bull calf on transport truck. Photo: RTE

Calves treated as ‘waste product’

A Cork TD has slammed the treatment of bull calves in Cork and across the country following shocking footage released as part of an undercover RTÉ investigation.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Social Democrats Party leader Holly Cairns TD said Government policy was to blame for allowing an explosion in the number bull calves in Ireland.

The Cork TD said the lifting of milk quotas in Ireland in 2015 has “very predictably” resulted in a huge rise in numbers which in turn has led to them being treated as a “waste product”.

“Bull calves who survive beyond their first week and are not killed in a yard or slaughterhouse routinely suffer terrible abuse. They’re kicked, hit with sticks, and thrown around by the tail, ears, and legs at marts,” said Deputy Cairns.

“You have to ask, how was this allowed to happen? The answer? Government policy. Why have we had such an unsustainable expansion of dairy? That is Government policy. Why have cattle been bred solely for dairy efficiency and away from dual breeding? Because that is a direct result of department policy,” she added.

Deputy Cairns said the scandal risks destroying Ireland’s reputation internationally as a country that looks after its animals. Later in her address, she told an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that his Government must acknowledge that a change of approach from blindly driving the expansion and intensification of dairy is desperately needed.

“Not least just to protect the dairy sector, but all other sectors because it is that green brand that is so valuable to this country and our exports that has to be protected,” she concluded.

In the RTÉ documentary, which aired on Monday night, handlers at cattle marts in county Cork including Bandon, Kanturk and Corrin were filmed showing a blatant disregard for animal welfare.

Undercover filming captured what appeared to be serious breaches of animal welfare, with numerous examples of slapping, striking and kicking of animals, all prohibited by law, as well as throwing them through the air which is regarded as a serious breach of animal welfare.

Under EU regulations, sticks are not permitted for use on young calves and a calf’s ears or tail, which is sensitive and can break, should not be twisted or pulled.

The programme also revealed a recent sharp increase in baby calves being delivered for slaughter to meat processing plants. Over a 7 day period, RTÉ Investigates observed dozens of trucks deliver calves for slaughter to a meat plant in county Limerick.

Most were just a few weeks old. Both farmers delivering there, and the factory itself confirmed to RTÉ Investigates there would be no payment for the animals.

A big push on milk production means that one and a half million dairy calves are born in Ireland every year. They are born so that the cows continue to produce milk. Around half of the calves born are male, many of lower grade quality which aren’t suitable to be reared for beef.

Responding to the programme, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, condemned the shocking practices observed by RTÉ and said they were “certainly not reflective of the work that farmers put into managing their farm enterprises responsibly".

“The footage shown by RTÉ represents the actions of a few. What we saw was utterly unacceptable, and in some instances, was unlawful. My department has requested RTÉ provide it with all of the footage available, and any other information it has, so that it can investigate the matter fully and take appropriate action,” said the minister.