By Andrew Shirley

THE IRISH Cattle and Sheep Farmers” Association says proposed cross-compliance penalties are unacceptable, unfair and the system must be rebalanced towards farmers.

Under the proposal, penalties will be points-based and ICSA president Malcolm Thompson said: “What is proposed is a Draconian system that will lead to severe penalties for even the most trivial of clerical errors, such as failure to sign an animal passport.”

Forgetting to sign a cattle passport would mean three points and only 11 points would be required before a farm was docked 1% of its entire single farm payment, said Mr Thompson. The penalty would increase to 3% after 30 points and 5% after 50. “The principal of penalty points doesn”t bother us at all, but they must be reasonable.”

A spokesman for the Irish government”s Department of Agriculture said no final decisions had yet been taken. “We want a system that is fair but complies with our obligations to EU auditors.”

ICSA is proposing that farmers who regularly meet 95% of various administrative targets, like cattle tagging and updating herd registers, should receive credits that could be used to offset against penalty points.

In the UK, where there are no plans for a points-based system of penalties, Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said he was optimistic that farmers need not be too worried as long as the rules were applied by DEFRA consistently.

“I am quite sure that genuine mistakes are not going to result in farmers losing their single farm payment. There is no way that you can have 100% of cattle on your farm with ear-tags all of the time.”

Andrew Clark, head of policy services at the NFU, said Brussels already allowed some flexibility by stating that bodies monitoring compliance, like the Rural Payments Agency, need not apply sanctions unless there was a significant infringement of the rules.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “For some very minor or technical breaches, farmers will not be penalised in the first instance.”

andrew.shirley@rbi.co.uk