NORTHERN IRELAND sheep producers have called for major changes to new tagging requirements rolled out by the department of agriculture (DARD) over the Christmas period.

As part of an overhaul designed to preserve the trade in slaughter sheep to the Republic of Ireland, farmers have been allocated new nine-digit flock codes, with new flock record books and movement documents to follow soon.

But the Ulster Farmers Union has complained that the new system is unworkable and goes beyond what is required by Brussels.

Its main gripe is that, since Jan 1, DARD has been demanding that sheep moved off holdings are identified individually on movement records, rather than in batches, with the correlation of tag numbers between flocks required for all movements.

This, says the UFU, involves additional work in collecting yards with no benefit in terms of traceability.

The condition has been imposed to satisfy the Dublin government, which operates a system based on individual movement recording.

A derogation allowing batch recording of Northern Ireland sheep travelling direct to abattoirs in the south expired last summer.

“The Republic of Ireland is a major market for us, taking about 235,000 lambs last year, and we want to maintain it,” said UFU livestock adviser Ronald Annett.

“But these rules go beyond what should be necessary.”

Under new EU rules, due to take effect from July 9, 2005, movement documents will only have to give the ID code of the holding of origin and the holding or slaughterhouse of destination.

Individual ID on movement documents will only apply when electronic ID is introduced in 2008.

The UFU fears that the additional bureaucracy under DARD‘s new system, combined with decoupling, may accelerate the number of farmers getting out of sheep production.

It wants simplification of the whole system, including changes to the procedures for registering and recording animal movements.

But DARD has given a terse response to these complaints, expressing its “surprise at the nature of comments from some UFU representatives”.

It says it has consistently explained to the sheep industry that free trade with the south could only continue on the basis of individual movement recording.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk