The EU Commission has stunned farming leaders by announcing it will tolerate only 100% accuracy from farmers using electronic identification for sheep.
The EU stance could mean any failure to record sheep movements accurately will result in single farm payment penalties.
The NFU voiced its dismay at the announcement, adding that it had consistently stated 100% accuracy, 100% of the time, was an impossible goal when reading and recording individual sheep movements.
DEFRA and the devolved administrations in the UK have also recognised these issues and, following work with the livestock industry, have recently submitted a proposal to the commission highlighting the need for tolerance, a union spokesman said.
The proposal centred around an inspection system which recognised the practical issues of sheep EID and ensured that farmers would not fall foul of single farm payment penalties as a result of inevitable and unavoidable incomplete readings under the current system.
But the initial reaction from EU officials is to push for nothing less than 100% accuracy.
NFU livestock board chairman Alistair Mackintosh said: “It is truly incomprehensible that the commission appears to have taken this initial view. The NFU worked hard to achieve a derogation which allowed the introduction of third parties to carry out electronic reads on behalf of the producer.
“The success of this derogation relied heavily on the acceptance of tolerance and, without it, farmers will now have to achieve 100% accuracy every single time which, from experience, I know is impossible.”
The National Sheep Association said it was angry and amazed. NSA chairman of council Jonathan Barber said the news had come as a nasty surprise.
Based on visits to the UK by EU officials and the EU commissioner, John Dalli, all indications were that the message about the need for tolerance had got through, Mr Barber said.
Clearly this has not been the case in respect of some officials in the EU department which concerns itself with SFP schemes, he said.
“We know DEFRA officials are as surprised as we are and they have told us that they do not intend to give up the fight on this one.”