The level of awareness by Irish farmers of legislation prohibiting the docking of the tails of animals has been criticised by EU officials.
An audit by European Commission health and food safety inspectors described knowledge of the ban as “low”, while they also expressed concern about non-compliance with the ban on tail docking.
However, the audit, which was carried out in February, on measures to ensure the welfare of cattle on Irish dairy farms, accepted the ongoing levels of illegal tail docking of cattle in Ireland were of “a low level”.
EU officials found general measures in place on farms in Ireland ensured that cattle were not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury.
Direct payments by the European Commission to farmers are only granted if they have complied with certain animal welfare rules.
In particular the auditors tried to identify what factors influenced the steps taken by dairy farmers to minimise the occurrence of mastitis, lameness, injuries, reproductive and metabolic diseases and disease in calves.
General animal welfare inspections of cattle farms in Ireland by Department of Agriculture officials found mutilation of animals was the main reason for a third of farms which were non-compliant with legislation in 2013.
However, the figures fell to 5% in 2014.
Separately, 60 to 70 cases of non-compliance with animal welfare regulations have been uncovered on average in annual cross-compliance checks of about 1,350 farms since 2012. The most frequent breach relates to tail docking.
For first-time offenders it usually results in a 5% deduction in the single-farm payment.
Most farmers claimed they had engaged in tail docking for hygiene reasons and were unaware of the ban on tail docking.
“Awareness levels on national legislation prohibiting tail docking are not high and, despite some preventive measures, there is an apparently low but continuing level of the banned practice of mutilation,” the EU officials concluded.
The Department of Agriculture said it intended to increase efforts to reduce the non-compliance rates of tail docking.
“The department will write to all stakeholders notifying them of the legal requirement on tail docking and requesting their assistance and support in complying with the law,” said an official.
It plans to use “every avenue” available to inform farmers of the ban including such events as Teagasc open days and the National Ploughing Championships.
All marts will be contacted to remind them that it is illegal for cows with docked tales to be sold at marts.
The Department of Agriculture said it had taken a successful prosecution on the issue and would continue to take more if further breaches were found.
EU officials admitted that one of the aims of the removal in April 2015 after 30 years of the EU milk quotas, which had penalised member states if they produced too much milk, was to increase efficiency through economies of scale in milk production.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved