15 November 1996

EU tags cost £2.7m

EUROPEAN Commission plans to introduce an all-numeric double-tagging system will cost the UK £2.7m to introduce, MAFF has warned.

If adopted, the commission legislation on cattle identification will mean the UK will have to switch from its alpha-numeric system and could have to remove current metallic tags, which government claims has animal welfare implications.

The commission proposals will also require member states to set up a national computerised database by the end of next year. But even if double tagging and a computerised database is working by December 1997, farmers will still have to maintain the cattle passport system and stringent on-farm records.

Junior farm minister Angela Browning told MPs that while the commissions proposals on cattle traceability were welcome, they were too demanding. "We are extremely concerned over the feasibility of the current timetable and the need to maintain the passport system once the database is up and running." The database would have to deal with between 9m and 12m cattle movements every year.

Responding to questions from Lib Dem farm spokesman Paul Tyler, Mrs Browning said she hoped the long-awaited report on a centralised computer database would be put out to consultation early in 1997.

MPs also discussed the commissions proposed voluntary beef labelling measures.

Mrs Browning said start-up costs would be £4.7m, and beef retailers would have to pay £3.2m per year amid a mass of additional bureaucracy, which could lead to a two-tier labelling market. In effect, this could undermine consumer confidence.

Gwyneth Dunwoody (Lab, Nantwich and Crewe) was scathing of the labelling proposals, describing them as "ill-thought out" and "embarrassingly futile."

The European Commission proposals are to be discussed by farm ministers in Brussels on Monday, and the measures could be adopted by the end of the year.