22 August 1997

January 98 start for compulsory ear tagging in Ireland

By Shelley Wright

COMPULSORY sheep tagging in the Irish republic is to be introduced from January next year, and is already in operation in Northern Ireland.

In the republic, all sheep moving off a farm will have to have an ear-tag with the holding number of their farm of birth printed on it.

Sean ONeill, executive secretary of the Irish Farmers Association animal health committee, said the government was introducing a compulsory quality assurance scheme for beef next May, with computerised traceability. Once that was operational, a sheep assurance scheme would be introduced, involving all movements being recorded on the database. He estimated that about 5m lambs were sold off farms each year in the country.

An official from Irelands department of agriculture said tagging was being introduced to meet the terms of the EU directive on stock traceability. "And to facilitate any future scheme to eradicate scrapie," she added.

In Northern Ireland, tagging or tattooing all sheep that moved off farms was supposed to became compulsory on Aug 1. But because tag manufacturers have been unable to meet the demand from farmers, the department of agriculture is not yet taking action against producers who sell unmarked sheep.

Wesley Aston, of the Ulster Farmers Union, believed there were two reasons behind the provinces decision to introduce the identification system. The first was the increasing demand from consumers for traceability. "And we also think that the decision had a lot to do with France. The French have insisted that all their sheep have to be tagged. The assumption was they would then insist all live imports met the same standard."

He said the tags were costing about 14p each. On the whole, farmers in Northern Ireland had accepted the need for the system. The province sells about 1.5m lambs a year.

In Britain, NFU deputy president, Ben Gill, said discussions with MAFF were ongoing. But, with more than 18m lambs sold each year in this country, he said the industry was not prepared to rush headlong in to accepting that tagging was the only way to identify sheep.

"There are plenty of other ways that could be used to identify which flock a sheep has come from, such as tattooing, traditional flock colour marks, horn marking and so on," he said.

Ongoing talks are taking place in Britain over tagging.