Agriculture committee MEPs have voted to remove the electronic identification (EID) of sheep, cattle and pigs from the cross-compliance regime in the latest round of voting on CAP reform proposals.
Scottish MEP Alyn Smyth said he was hopeful that the vote would eventually lead to the removal of single farm payment cross-compliance penalties for farmers breaching tough EU rules on sheep EID.
The European parliament’s agriculture committee voted to delete cattle, pig and sheep EID from cross-compliance rules during a session in Brussels on Thursday morning (24 January).
The measure will now be considered along with a series of amendments to the CAP when the EU parliament votes in a full plenary, scheduled for March.
“We now have a very clear statement from the agriculture committee that we think cattle, pig and sheep EID should be taken out of cross-compliance,” said Mr Smyth.
“It’s not the end of the story, but it certainly is a significant victory.”
Mr Smyth, a Scottish National Party (SNP) member, said sheep farmers in Scotland were “very worried” about the potential for cross-compliance penalties for failure to comply with strict EU requirements in EID.
Sheep farmers felt “betrayed” by the EID system that was not 100% reliable and some were being penalised after “innocent” errors in data had been detected, such as technical hitches in tags not reading electronically, or sheep losing tags.
“We have not seen many penalties because it’s still early days, but there is a difference between deliberate fraud and error when the technology does not deliver,” he said.
George Milne, development officer for the National Sheep Association (NSA) in Scotland, welcomed the decision.
“At least the majority of MEPs have understood the problems that have come as a result of EID of sheep,” he said.
“This will be a huge benefit to farmers who are trying to achieve the unrealistic target of 100% accuracy at critical control points for reading and recording of sheep movements.”
Mr Milne, a sheep farmer in Fife with 100 pedigree breeding ewes and 250 commercial breeding ewes, added: “This will also be a comfort to farmers who constantly worry about on-farm inspections.”
An NFU spokesman said: “This is a very positive move from the MEPs after some hard lobbying from UK farmers, but the battle is only half won.
“We must now ensure all MEPs vote in favour of the change in March and then the parliament must negotiate to agree the change with the Council of European agricultural ministers.”
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