The move follows a damning report by EU veterinary officials who identified “significant deficiencies” in the UK’s traceability system for sheep during an inspection of farms, auction marts and abattoirs in February.
“Elements of the traceability systems in place in the markets and slaughterhouses visited were non-compliant and had not been detected by the authorities,” the official report of the European Commission’s health and consumer protection directorate states.
The report has alarmed sheep farmers who fear a costly and unworkable system of double tagging and individual movement recording will be imposed on the industry when the current derogation from these regulations ends on 30 June.
The derogation allows UK farmers to record the movement of sheep in batches as they leave the farm rather than recording individual sheep movements.
“We are determined to resist double tagging and the paper chase which that would involve,” said NFUS livestock committee member, Bruce Walker. “An electronic identification system – when a system which is 100% reliable is developed – could easily be bolted on to the existing batch recording system and would ensure the level of traceability which the EU requires without imposing a costly bureaucratic burden of individual identification on farmers.”
Mr Walker said individual identification might work in the rest of Europe where small flocks are common, but would be impossible to implement in Scotland where average flock size is 300-400 ewes, with many flocks of more than 1000 ewes.
He was speaking following a meeting of the NFUS’s north-east regional livestock committee which fully endorsed the move towards electronic identification.
The policy has now been accepted by the union’s national livestock committee and will be the subject of discussions this week with SEERAD officials prior to an all-industry stakeholders meeting in London next Tuesday (15 May).
“The livestock committee is crystal clear that double tagging is simply not an option for the sheep industry, hence the vital importance of securing an extension to the current derogation,” said NFUS vice-president Nigel Miller.