What are we going to do if live exports are banned? It is an unlikely outcome from the current horse-trading between the Greens and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but it may not be as far-fetched as many Irish farmers would like to think.
There is always a steady trickle of stories about animals dying en route to ports in North Africa, with The Guardian newspaper leading the way.
Most of this reporting is sponsored by animal rights philanthropists, but that does not mean that the stories don't influence public opinion.
There was a shocking incident last November when a boat destined for Saudi Arabia capsized near the Romanian port of Midia. The 14,000 sheep on board drowned.
Subsequent allegations of 'secret decks' that resulted in the boat's overloading made a tragic situation even worse.
Boats being held up for days and weeks before they are allowed unload in the sweltering North African heat have resulted in other gruesome episodes of animal cruelty and death.
The Irish calf export business had its own brush with controversy last year when footage emerged of some thug beating calves around pens in a French lairage.
But before we start beating ourselves up, it's worth noting that Ireland was identified as being one of the most responsible live exporters in Europe in a recent EU report.
The 'Welfare of Animals Transported by Sea' noted Ireland's protocols, including a requirement for a deposit from the exporter "of a considerable amount of funds" before the vessel is inspected to cover any costs or alterations required.
It also notes that the majority of Member States do not receive any feedback from the country of destination about the condition of the animals on arrival.
The exception to this is Ireland, which the report states "has a national requirement for an official veterinarian to travel on the first journey of a newly approved vessel and to report on the animal welfare outcome".
So what's the problem?
Well, the problem is that the systems aren't bullet-proof.
As the EU report concludes, current practice is "insufficient to minimise the risks" of bad welfare outcomes.
And the potential fall-out for Irish farming if there is a Midia-type incident is huge.
The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, told the Dáil that Ireland shipped close to 300,000 cattle last year, with calves accounting for two-thirds of the total. Over 20,000 Irish cattle were shipped to Africa and Turkey last year, helping bring the total value of the export business to nearly €300m annually.
Minister Creed was responding to a demand from Green Party MEP Grace O'Sullivan to ban live exports from Ireland.
Animal rights activists have a fairly reasonable position: an animal that has the desire to live and can feel pain should be spared any suffering, regardless of whether it is heading for slaughter.
It strikes me as odd that the beef and dairy industries here would leave themselves so exposed to the vagaries of such a vulnerable trade.
It's not like there are no alternatives. New Zealand has effectively ceased live exports of cattle for exactly this reason, forcing domestic operators to create enough capacity to slaughter all animals before they are exported.
And in this new world of viral threats, is the wholesale movement of millions of live animals across borders going to last?
I appreciate the arguments about live exports being the only way to keep manners on the beef barons.
But what is stopping the same people who demand that the trade should continue - farmers and exporters - from investing in slaughter facilities here to change the situation?
Why can't farmers invest in creating their own competition, and in the process create a more sustainable industry?
There are plenty of abattoirs around the country lying idle or running way under capacity.
Apart from adding value and creating employment in rural areas, it would also create a new requirement for extra rearing capacity. Beef farmers won't relish the prospect of rearing dairy-bred calves. So the dairy farmer would have to 'de-risk' the scenario for the rearer by setting up some kind of contract-rearing deal.
That would focus minds in the dairy sector about what kind of bull calves the market really wants, instead of the current situation where dairy farmers get to produce whatever suits them, and let somebody else worry about turning it into a profit.
Is it just me that thinks that this all adds up to a much more sustainable model for Ireland's main farming sectors than a continued reliance on the volatile live export trade?