British sheep farmers could have as little as 10 days left before they spiral into a compliance crisis over the European Commission’s demands that they achieve 100% accuracy with electronic identification (EID).
The warning was issued on the opening day of the Royal Highland Show when the Scottish Government’s rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochhead, announced that, in a bid to avert the crisis, British and Scottish governments will put forward new proposals to the Farm Commissioner in Brussels next week.
Mr Lochhead described it as a last bid attempt to find a solution to the threat that serious penalties would be imposed on producers who fail to meet the demands.
And he revealed that the Scottish Government, backed by NFU Scotland, is planning to take a unilateral approach with the commission and capitalise on Scotland’s £5m sheep database which is already operating and delivering full traceability.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting, Mr Lochhead said it was the last chance to play the Scottish card and demonstrate that the database was delivering at the highest level in Europe.
He said: “Scotland has a right as a Competent Authority to implement EID separately from England and Wales. And the Commissioner agreed the principle during our meeting last week that Scottish sheep keepers who use the national database and who achieve a realistic standard of recording shouldn’t be overly punished under cross-compliance checks.
“We therefore want the commission to differentiate between the Scottish regime and what is happening elsewhere in Europe. We’ve invested in a good system and in these circumstances we’re not going to have our farmers put in a position where they’re expected to provide 100% compliance.
“Farmers are anxious and the sheep sales are coming up, so the sooner we get assurance the better.”
However NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller admitted that the chances of achieving a deal for Scotland were only “50:50″and conceded that “going it alone” would not enhance NFU Scotland’s relationship with his colleagues in England.
“DEFRA doesn’t have the same levers as Scotland so it’s almost certain the English will be pushed to 100% compliance,” he said.
“Our system is totally different from the one in England and Wales and it does deliver. For us to do that and not get benefits for our producers would be crazy.”