2 May 1997

Moves on ice till after E-day

PROGRESS towards introducing a cattle database in Britain has been put on hold until after the election.

Stephen Rossides, head of livestock at the NFU, said that until March the industry had held regular discussions with MAFF on how a computerised movements system might work. But when the election was called everything was put on ice.

But he believed ministry officials had completed a revised proposal and that it was waiting on the desk for the attention of whoever was appointed farm minister.

If the proposal was endorsed immediately by the minister, then Mr Rossides hoped the database could be operational before the end of the year.

Despite the widespread industry opposition to the paper-based system to record cattle movements, originally proposed by MAFF, Mr Rossides said officials had refused to ditch the idea in favour of electronic tagging.

An EU commission trial on various electronic identification chips was underway across Europe, but results would not be available for another two years. Until then MAFF was reluctant to commit itself to electronic tags in case its choice of system turned out to be rejected by Brussels.

But he said MAFF had made some important, although minor, concessions. Instead of making farmers and auctioneers fill in separate movement forms for all cattle going through a market, Mr Rossides believed officials had accepted that auctioneers should be allowed to do all the paperwork.

"While we are keen to make progress as quickly as possible with the next farm minister, we need to be absolutely sure the system will be meaningful. There is little point rushing ahead with a database just for the sake of it. We need something that will help get the beef ban lifted," he said.

Gavin Strang, Labours farm spokesman, promised his Party would take an urgent approach to setting up a database if elected.