'One slip' could be calamitous for important live export trade - Minister Creed warns

Hard Border questions: Michael Creed repeated the Government line when questioned yesterday. Picture: Damien Eagers
Hard Border questions: Michael Creed repeated the Government line when questioned yesterday. Picture: Damien Eagers
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

AGRICULTURE Minister Michael Creed warned “one slip” could be calamitous for the important live export trade.

The Cork minister said the Government was clear in its encouragement of live exports of cattle but the very highest standards of animal welfare must be maintained.

Mr Creed told farmers at the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ (ICSA) AGM in Portlaoise that he had been “accosted” at international level by people who have bought Irish calves that did not match to the expected level of breeding.

The ICSA’s former beef chairman Edmond Phelan called for the breed of the dam to be made mandatory on the animal’s card at the mart.

However, Mr Creed said there was a “big problem” ringside with the breed of cow at calf sales.

“Without full knowledge people are buying a bit of a pig in a poke,” he said, adding they were looking at the possibility of DNA testing the calves to assure buyers. However, he pointed out there was a 14-day turnaround for the results while calves could be sold on off farms after 10 days.

“We are looking to find out how to turn that around as swiftly as possible,” he said.

ICSA general secretary Eddie Punch said it was the “elephant in the room” and the impact of dairy expansion was being felt by beef farmers with the move toward Jersey/Kiwi crosses to deliver better fats and protein in their milk. “The elephant in the room is that no one wants those bobby calves,” he said, adding it was being looked at in a one-dimensional way over the production of fat and protein levels for milk producers.

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Mr Creed insisted the dairy industry was aware as the welfare issue could “spill over”. He said part of it would involve giving more information to calf-to-beef producers when they were buying the calves.

“We will have capacity from mid-march to export 80,000 calves a month. But we are running flat out to standstill because of the growth in the dairy herd,” he said.

In 2018, live exports totalled 246,226 head of cattle, up 31pc on 2017. Exports to third countries decreased in 2018, mainly relating to currency fluctuations in Turkey.

Mr Creed said he had no control over a row between US President Donald Trump and Turkey that causes a “collapse” in the local currency.

He said they continued to work on overseas markets for Irish produce, with the Chinese market now open to Irish beef.

Mr Creed said the level of consumption of beef in China stood at around 3-4kg per head which was far lower than Irish consumption.

“A marginal increase in consumption of beef per capita is more beef than we would ever dream of producing,” he said.

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