17 January 1996

Database debate focuses

on who pays

MAFFs paper-based plans for a cattle database fall short of industry needs, the British Cattle Breeders Club conference heard. Sue Rider reports

MAFF is being urged to rethink its plans for a computerised cattle database that it released for industry consultation before Christmas.

Speaking at last weeks British Cattle Breeders Club annual conference, Cambridge, database working group chairman Bill Madders said industry should only contribute to the cost of running a national database if it meets its requirements.

"But MAFFs consultation document falls short of industry needs," he said. Government was proposing it would pay the start up cost of the database, estimated at £5m, but that the industry would foot the £20-25m annual running costs. Mr Madders said MAFFs claim that industry would be the main beneficiary of computerised traceability was misleading. MAFF would, for example, benefit from more efficient tracing of animals in the event of disease. Costs should, therefore, be shared by MAFF and industry, on a user pays basis, Mr Madders added.

"And until the database meets the needs of the industry as set out in the working group report, MAFF should pay the total cost."

Also planned by MAFF was a paper-based system, to initially run in conjunction with the cattle passports introduced last July (see panel).

"The proposals will create a bureaucratic paper nightmare," said Mr Madders. "MAFFs suggested paper-based system will cause duplication and fail to use the technology available."

He said the working group favoured the use of a phone-based system for notification of births, sales and purchases. "As for data capture, this should include use of double-tagging, preferably using electronic tags, with an end to passports and movement records," said Mr Madders.

A MAFF official admitted that electronic transfer would be cheaper and reduce the overall running costs.

"Were not ruling out anything and saying that passports are with us to stay. But until the national database is up and running and seen by member states to be efficient, passports will remain in place.

"It is essential to have a simple system, one that is easy to understand and operate," she said. It would be possible to develop it later.

MAFF recognised that markets and abattoirs reporting a large number of animal movements, however, may not wish to use the paper-based system. It planned to allow these businesses to transfer data electronically to the MAFF database as soon as possible, she said.

As for phone-based data inputting systems, scope for error was huge.

The official said MAFF was still awaiting the outcome of the EU Commissions negotiations on cattle identification before it introduces compulsory double-tagging. The EU had yet to stipulate its ideal specification for double ear tags. It could be for one small secure tag and one large plastic, distance readable tag – and it was still to be decided which ear would be used for which of the tags.

Mr Madders agreed that cattle should be double tagged with two official tags. But was concerned about the loss rates of plastic tags.

"Electronic tags should be allowed, and encouraged in place of large distance readable tags to improve the accuracy and speed of data capture," he said.

The official said MAFF was not prohibiting use of electronic tags, but didnt feel the technology was available yet to make them mandatory. "Im sure we are not far away from electronic identification becoming standard practice, but ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) standards must first be agreed for tags and readers.

"It is significant that no other member state has yet made electronic identification mandatory. We are also waiting for the outcome of an EU trial on siting the electronic devices. It would prove costly if Great Britain fitted cattle with electronic tags, and then the EU advised using electronic boluses."

Mr Madders also felt that the database must hold information on farm assurance memberships, as well as tracking movements. The MAFF official stressed the need for simplicity early on to enable the system to capture the core data as quickly as possible. But in a few years, envisaged the database being enhanced and expanded.

She said MAFF intended to launch the UK system as soon as the EU reached a final decision on its European livestock traceability scheme.

&#8226 MLC and the National Cattle Association are urging MAFF to ensure that there is nothing else on official ear tags other than the animals unique lifetime number.

Although some pedigree breeders were keen to see additional management information on the ear tag, Roland Kershaw-Dalby of the NCA stressed that extra information could render the tag inaccurate.n

Cattle database working group chairman Bill Madders: "The proposals will create a bureaucratic paper nightmare."

Jan Doomerholt – the Dutch abandoned a paper-based cattle traceability system 10 years ago.

John Moffat, chairman of the Milk Development Council, is the new president of the British Cattle Breeders Club.

David Tonner of Cheshire-based information management company Unisys which hopes to run the British Cattle Movement Service, a new private organisation to be appointed by MAFF to administer the cattle traceability system. Unisys designed, built and maintains the cattle tracing system in Northern Ireland.

How it would work

When a cattle passport is issued farmers would also receive a number of movement forms attached to it – each with the animals ear tag number printed on it in barcode form. Farmers will also be supplied with a number of barcode labels giving their name, address, and herd number.

A movement would be recorded by tearing off a movement form, attaching the farm barcode label to it, and filling in the date that the animal either moved onto or off the farm. This form would then be sent to a new private organisation, the British Cattle Movement Service, to be set up to administer the system.

Let your view be known

MAFF consultation document on cattle traceability was issued by Alison Reeves, at its Animal Health Division, Guildford. She would welcome farmers to fax their considered views on the issue to her before the deadline for consultation on Jan 31, 1997. Miss Reeves fax number is (01483-403516). Copies of the consultation paper can be obtained from local NFU or MAFF offices or from MAFF publications (0645-556000), or the MAFF helpline on (0645-335577).

Dutch system

Moved away from paper-based system 10 years ago. Uses a 24-hour voice response phone system. Its a direct link for data transfer from the producers press button phone to computer database. Births, sales and purchases must all be notified within three days.

Identification is with plastic double-side tags fixed in both ears. Plastic tags have minimised loses and proved easier to read than metal tags. Each tag displays Netherlands country code and the animals unique nine-digit number. Also on the tag is a barcode for quick electronic reading – usually only at abattoirs.


&#8226 System must be user-friendly.

&#8226 Move away from paper system.

&#8226 Move to electronic tagging.

&#8226 Links with other databases.