3 March 2000

Scotland forges ahead with EIDfor beef and dairy herds

By Shelley Wright

SCOTLAND is set to introduce electronic identification (EID) for its national herd of 2.1m beef and dairy cattle, in a move hailed by farming leaders as potentially one of the most exciting opportunities ever for the Scottish cattle industry.

Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie is likely to make an announcement in the coming weeks that he has secured the estimated £7m from the Scottish Executives budget to get the scheme under way.

Hosting a conference in Kinross last weekend, involving 250 representatives from all sectors of the red meat industry, Mr Finnie again stressed his belief that EID offered the Scottish industry real advantages.

And he asked for, and duly received, endorsement from the delegates that the project should be taken forward without delay.

He said: "The proposal is that we carry out a major drive later this year to baseline all two million cattle in the Scottish herd.

"Every farm with cattle, all 20,000 of them, will be visited, checked and rechecked, with all cattle electronically tagged at that time."

But he insisted that the scheme must not stop there. Electronic Data Transfer (EDT) would also be introduced. "So, once the herd is baselined, all future notification of births, deaths and movements will have to be notified to Workington (the British Cattle Movement Service headquarters) electronically."

Electronic figures

At the moment, only 5% of cattle passport applications and 20% of movements are notified to BCMS electronically, David Evans, BCMS director, told the conference.

Mr Finnie said EDT would mean every farmer and crofter in Scotland would have to be able to send details by computer, but it did not necessarily mean everyone having to buy their own equipment. Groups could be established to handle data for a number of farmers or agents could be used.

"This technology could make a huge difference to on-farm efficiency, as well as making life easier in abattoirs and markets. No more post-cards, no more illegible writing and checking, and much less chance of subsidies being refused because of human error," he said.

"It could also have important marketing advantages by keeping the Scotch quality beef sector ahead of the competition," he added.

Although the initial outlay for the baselining exercise and tagging was considerable, Mr Finnie said, he accepted that, in the longer-term, the Scottish Executive would save money by cutting the number and duration of compulsory herd checks.

Mr Walker added: "I really believe that by going ahead now, it is one of the most exciting opportunities ever for the Scottish beef industry. Electronic tags could do away with paperwork, passports and red tape and provide improved traceability and allow more widespread improvement in quality assurance to give us a marketing advantage in an increasingly competitive market. Thank God there is enough foresight in Scotland to push ahead with this."