22 June 2001
Electronic sheep ID is ‘unworkable’

By FWi reporters

ELECTRONIC tagging of sheep is too expensive and could penalise small producers, experts warn in an unpublished report.

Currently, tagging costs would equal the entire UK sheep annual premium scheme budget, warns a report from the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies (WIRS).

The report, which was part funded by the Meat and Livestock Commission, was disclosed exclusively to FARMERS WEEKLY.

It raises questions about the judgement of farm unions advocating electronic identification (EID) to help prevent another outbreak of foot-and-mouth.

The National Farmers Union sees this as an alternative to government plans for a 20-day standstill period to reduce numbers of stock movements.

But the report warns that EID for automatic data capture would cost between 5879-7323 for a 1000-ewe flock, with electronic devices at 3- 3.50/head.

And farmers with 500 sheep would pay the same start up costs as large-scale units, and in small flocks the cost would exceed the value of the animal, it claims.

The report casts doubt on the reliability of an implant based system, claiming that up to 15% of the electronic ID transponders are lost or untraceable.

We cannot run with that sort of EID system until it is proven to be both cost-effective and trustworthy,” said National Sheep Association (NSA) chairman David Smith.

The more sheep you have, the cheaper it gets, but the small producer hasnt a chance of footing the bill.”

NSA recommends that a farm movement book with a triplicate format is used to record all stock movements.

Dewi Jones, head of sheep research at WIRS, said: “The reliability and loss rate of implants does cause a great deal of concern so much so that we would never recommend them being used.

But boluses are far more robust with a loss rate of only about 1%, he added.

Archie Sains, MLC industry development adviser, said some of the reports costs needed updating and that tags could already be produced at 1.70 each

“When the volume of EID production is increased the costs will come down, he said.

Delays in Europe meant that it would be at least two years before EID was available at a commercial level, he admitted.

What everyone agrees is that we need government investment in this technology to bring prices to the farmer down to an appropriate level, he added.

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