22 June 2001

Electronic sheep tags will

cost dear and penalise

small producers – WIRS

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By FWreporters

THE introduction of electronic identification for sheep could penalise small-scale producers and cost the equivalent of the entire UK sheep annual premium scheme budget, warns a report from the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies.

The report raises questions about the farm unions promotion of electronic ID in response to the governments 20-day standstill consultation document. It casts doubt on the reliability of an implant based system and shows costs will run into £ thousands.

The unpublished report which was part funded by the Meat and Livestock Commission was disclosed exclusively to FARMERS WEEKLY. It warns costs of electronic identification for automatic data capture in sheep, would total between £5879 and £7323 for a 1000-ewe flock with electronic devices costing between £3- 3.50/head.

Producers with 500 sheep would pay the same start up costs as large-scale units. In small flocks, the cost of the new system, on a proportional basis, would exceed the value of the animal, it warns.

Up to 15% of the electronic ID transponders are lost or untraceable; leading to big gaps in data collection, it adds.

"We cannot run with that sort of EID system until it is proven to be both cost-effective and trustworthy," said David Smith, NSA chairman. "We have been informed of the costs and this has strengthened our argument against this system. 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. However, boluses are far more robust with a loss rate of only about 1%.

Archie Sains, MLC industry development adviser, agreed with Mr Jones that boluses could be the way forward, pointing out some of the reports costs needed updating. "When the volume of EID production is increased the costs will come down. Already we could produce a tag at about £1.70 each. Some of the start up costs such as the cost of new weigh crates – included in the Welsh study – could also be offset by upgrading old crates."

At a recent meeting a spokesman for Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said an electronic ID system could take four years to become fully functional.

But Mr Sains disputed that this would be the case. "If we had the green light we could be up and running within 12 months," he said.

However, he conceded that it would be at least two years before EID was available at a commercial level because other European countries had yet to decide on which method of identification to use.

The French government already appears to have backed EID and has agreed to subsidise the cost of sheep tags attract government subsidy reducing at the rate of about £16.50 per 100 tags.

"What everyone agrees is that we need government investment in this technology to bring prices to the farmer down to an appropriate level." &#42