BEFORE CHRISTMAS we attended a meeting on electronic identification at which a part-time Australian producer with 1200 ewes spoke of the financial benefits of the electronic tags he makes.

The meeting was organised by the English Rural Development Programme and DEFRA, together with a mart. But tags need to be the same size as cattle primary tags to enable reasonable throughput at marts and abattoirs, and in ADAS trials 20% were lost.

Financial gains appeared minimal compared with a substantial outlay to access the claimed benefits. Legally, only sheep more than one year old need to be electronically identified after January 2008 if a practical device can be found.

However, the manufacturers’ angle would be to convince meat procurers the only way they can comply with EU legislation on sourcing would be by insisting on total electronic identification. Apparently, in Australia some buyers either meet part or all of the cost of electronic tags.

When DEFRA can convince supermarkets to pay for the technology and supply farms with electronic tags to be inserted just before marketing, opposition might ease.

However, since deductions off our auction mart cheques now include MLC levies and meat inspection charges, they would surely have more chance of tagging flying pigs.

We’ve just received a summons, sorry invitation, from DEFRA to a meeting “as too many lambs are being lost around lambing and this is unacceptable on animal welfare grounds as well as economically”.

This insensitivity from DEFRA, which refused to hold a meaningful inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak, contrasts with Prince Charles who asked to revisit the same people at Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services. He obviously appreciates both the human and animal welfare implications.