13 March 1998

French say stick to one tag supplier

CENTRALISED supply of cattle ear tags is seen as simpler, more accurate and cheaper by Cont-inental farmers, but UK manufacturers warn any cut to the 15 approved suppliers in this country will cost producers more in the long run.

EU countries, such as France, centralised ear tag supply in the 1970s to improve traceability. Using a government-held database, ear tags are allocated to each farm depending on livestock numbers recorded in census surveys.

According to EU ear tag manufacturer, Jerome Reboul of Allflex – which holds the French contract to supply ear tags – centralised systems using automated electronic transfer of data removes the errors that clog up the UK paper-based system.

UK producers must supply information that matches government data before ear tags can be issued. About five out of seven UK orders are inaccurate requiring a manual paper chase to collect correct data from producers, he suggests.

French producers pay a fixed fee of £5.40 a beast covering ear tag allocation, registration and annual vet inspection. UK producers pay up to £1.80 a beast for tagging alone – a figure which Mr Reboul suggests could be almost halved under a centralised system.

But UK manufacturers disagree. "A centralised system may cut costs in the short term but it will lead to a monopolised market," says Richard Webber, founder of Shearwell Data ear tag manufacturers.

"Producers must have choice of ear tag that suits their livestock best," adds Mr Webber.

Those concerns are shared by MLC industry development adviser, Archie Sains.

"If one manufacturer is given approval, what happens to the others forced into producing secondary tags only? When a tender comes up for renewal, wholl be left to supply?" asks Mr Sains.

Tag prices could be halved in the UK with the a centralised database… Jerome Reboul.