The UK sheep industry will not be ready to implement compulsory electronic sheep identification in January 2008, reckon livestock auctioneers.

Speaking ahead of the results of a two-year ADAS trial into electronic identification (EID) in sheep to be released by DEFRA shortly, the Livestock Auctioneers Association said a national sheep database would not be operational in time.

Cumbria auctioneer Chris Dodds, LAA executive secretary, said there was a raft of reasons why the entire sheep industry wouldn’t be ready by 2008.

“As auctioneers, we recognise the only way to implement a national sheep identification scheme is through an electronic system. But, for it to operate, an effective UK sheep database is needed.

“Although it is in development, we don’t believe it will be able to cope with the huge influx of data by 2008,” said Mr Dodds.

But that is only one of the LAA’s concerns. Although LAA acknowledges computer-based recording is under way in some flocks, it believes DEFRA’s figures on sheep farmers confidently using computers is optimistic.

“Many producers, particularly those running big hill flocks, are not using computers. DEFRA has failed to grasp that fact and if 100% of producers can’t access a national database, there is no point in launching an EID scheme,” said Mr Dodds.

He admitted that EID could be a fantastic management tool, but said the EU had underestimated the UK sheep sector’s diversity.

“Some EU countries, including Holland, are on target for January 2008, but there is no comparison with sheep farming in Holland and the UK. I can’t see how the volume of stock handled at weekly primestock sales, let alone the big sales with more than 20,000 breeding sheep in a day’s trading, could be dealt with.”

Although double tagging will be the most popular EID method used by sheep producers, the bolus option would bring even more problems, the LAA said.

“The big flaw with boluses is that a prime lamb carcass will be devoid of its head and carry no identification in the slaughterhouse.

“How are slaughtermen going to retrieve boluses carrying microchips from sheep stomachs and know which bolus came from which carcass?”