Wednesday, 30 May 2018
I am keenly aware of the vital role that live exports play in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The ongoing search for new third country markets is a priority for my Department, particularly in the context of Brexit.
The outlook for live cattle exports in 2018 is very positive. Already in the three months of this year, a total of 79,226 head of cattle were exported, including 66,807 calves. The largest export market during this period was the Netherlands with 4,585 head of cattle, followed by Spain with 4,135 and France with 1,069. The UK live export market was a relatively modest sector during the first quarter of 2018 with 151 head of cattle exported and a similarly small amount of 247 exported to Northern Ireland. There were no live exports to third country markets during this period, however, I am pleased to state that in the second quarter, we have already exported 770 head of cattle to Libya, 62 to Russia and 22 head of cattle to Rwanda.
Live exports will continue to inform the destinations selected for trade missions in 2018 as they did in 2017. Animal welfare is obviously a key concern in any live export trade, and inspections by my Department will continue to ensure that rigorous and robust animal welfare standards are strictly complied with during the transport of live cattle.
Earlier this year, I led a trade mission to Turkey focusing on live exports. Ireland exported 30,000 cattle to Turkey last year, which represented approximately 6% of that country's total import requirement. The trade delegation included officials from my Department and Bord Bia as well as representatives from the Irish live cattle export companies, and I met key stakeholders involved in the Turkish livestock sector, including Minister Fakıbaba. We had a broad ranging discussion, but live cattle exports were a central focus of our meeting. Exports of cattle to Turkey from January to April this year came to nearly 6,000 head, which represents a 27% increase over the same period last year.
To what degree does the Department monitor animal welfare in live exports to the locations the Minister mentioned? To what extent does the Department monitor the effect of the export of particular animals on the national herd, in particular on the breeding herd and its future prospects?
My Department attaches the highest significance to animal welfare in the context of the live export trade. I have met all of the key players in the industry and emphasised to them the fact that its continued existence is contingent on their continued commitment to the highest standards. We are involved in the inspection of cattle as they are loaded for departure on boats and, from time to time, we send departmental officials to travel with those cattle to conduct informal inspections. We place an enormous emphasis on welfare because of the significance of the trade to the beef industry and, in particular, to Irish farmers, and we will continue to insist on the highest standards. It is important to note that our animal welfare standards do not simply meet the EU standard but are, in fact, higher than the minimum EU requirement. We place such a level of significance on it that we have higher standards than those required.