The EU is considering a proposal calling for a ban on live-animal exports to non-EU countries that fail to meet its animal welfare standards.
MEPs on the European Parliament's powerful agriculture committee will vote tomorrow on whether to include the ban in a report that is highly critical of EU efforts to improve conditions for animals that are transported both within and outside the bloc.
But Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness says an outright ban - supported by Green and socialist MEPs - is "contentious" and may not win the support of a majority in committee tomorrow.
The ban "would impact live exports from Ireland and remove an important market outlet and competition for beef farmers", Ms McGuinness told the Farming Independent. "Irish live exporters have invested heavily in trucks and ships, which are inspected by the Department of Agriculture to ensure compliance with animal welfare standards," she said.
Ireland exported 246,000 live animals in 2018, according to the IFA.
The majority were calves and weanlings going to Spain and the Netherlands.
The IFA wants to double live export numbers in 2019, and gain more access to markets in Turkey and North Africa.
IFA president Joe Healy said live exports are essential for price competition and he has called on Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to resist any restrictions being imposed on the live trade.
Mr Healy said that it is very important that the trade continues to operate to the highest welfare standards, and he added that all live exports from Ireland are fully supervised by veterinary inspectors from the Department of Agriculture.
The IFA recently met with the live exporters, the Department and Bord Bia, and has followed up with a letter to Minister Creed, highlighting the importance of the sector.
The pressure for a ban follows press reports and undercover investigations claiming that animals exported from the EU - especially to Turkey, Libya and the Middle East - are being abused and inhumanely slaughtered.
Irish exports of live cattle and pigs have been name-checked by NGOs. And in 2016, the Commission found some "serious" deficiencies in Irish live exports, including the "transport of an animal with a fractured limb, significant lameness, cancer or other disease".
A report, penned by Danish MEP Jorn Dohrmann, calls for limits on long journeys, and says EU funding should aid local slaughtering.
Mr Dohrmann wants a "shift" towards the export of meat and carcasses, and even semen or embryos, instead of live animals.
EU rules, in place since 2005, say animals must have enough feed, water, space and bedding to last the journey, need regular rest stops and should not be transported to hot countries by truck in the summer.
But MEPs say there have been numerous infringements of the rules and that inspections are patchy, a criticism also levelled by EU auditors in a report last year.
Mr Dohrmann's report calls for "dissuasive" penalties for exporters and drivers that break the rules, including prosecution and the confiscation of vehicles.
The committee vote tomorrow will set the scene for a full parliamentary debate and vote in February.
Meanwhile, Green MEPs are also suing the Parliament for blocking a special committee of inquiry into the conditions on animal transport last year.
Meanwhile, a report in the scientific journal The Lancet this week called for a 90pc reduction in meat consumption by 2050, to minimise damage to the environment.
Farmers and opposition TDs have reacted angrily to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's admission that he is eating less meat in order to reduce his carbon footprint.