The much-anticipated trial charter flight to export 900 dairy calves off the island will not take place this spring.
The ‘Moove’ research project – being conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Teagasc and Wageningen University in the Netherlands – was due to fly between March 1 and April 30.
However, in light of the pandemic, it has emerged that almost all freight airplanes are being used for transporting Covid-19 vaccines. As such, the flight has been delayed until May or June.
IFA Ulster / North Leinster regional chairman Nigel Renaghan has criticised the development warning that flying calves this summer is “too little, too late”.
At an EU Parliament hearing on animal transport last week, DAFM animal welfare director Rob Doyle gave an update on ‘Moove’.
"The premise of the trial flight is to examine the impact of the process on calves (positive or negative), and also to compare air transportation to the existing method of road/ferry transportation.
"However, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in almost all freight airplanes in the world being taken up by transportation of vaccines which is currently taking precedence over animal transport.
“Thus, the part of ‘Moove’ which focuses on air transport of calves is delayed for now.
"Teagasc has conducted no scientifically based economic analysis as yet on air versus road transport. It has recently completed some preliminary work that highlights air transport as potentially economically feasible, although a reduction in the purchase price of calves would be required to offset the additional cost of flying.
"Also, flying would only be economically feasible at scale, meaning a large proportion of Irish calves would need to be transported by air to make it economically attractive to a transporter,” he said.
In response Mr Renaghan said: “This project should be a high priority. Private airline companies should be brought in to complete a proper and urgent cost analysis. For Teagasc to wait until summer is too little, too late.”