11 February 2000

SCOTS TO DEBATE PROS AND CONS OF SWITCH TO EID

A move towards electronic

tagging in cattle seems to

be gathering momentum

north of the border. But is it

the right decision?

Shelley Wright canvasses

industry opinion on the pros,

cons and the way forward

ALL the players involved in Scotlands cattle industry are to meet later this month to thrash out the feasibility of introducing electronic identification (EID) for the countrys national herd.

Farm minister Ross Finnie, who is keen to see the scheme implemented, announced the summit last month. It will be held on Feb 26.

A report on the feasibility of EID by Edinburgh consultants DTZ Pieda, commissioned by Mr Finnie late last year, is understood to have recommended a rapid move to electronic tagging of all Scotlands cattle.

The consultants are confident that, as long as the system adopted is approved by the International Standards Organisation (ISO), electronic identification in Scotland will meet any guidelines eventually released by the EU Commission. There is no need for delay, they maintain.

Trials across Europe assessing different systems of EID are still continuing as part of the so-called IDEA project.

But, having assessed the various options, such as tags, boluses or microchip implants, DTZ Pieda is believed to have recommended that a Scottish scheme should be based on ear tags. This conclusion was based on visibility, cost, potential loss, and possible entry into the human food chain.

Legal requirement

"If it is an ongoing legal requirement to identify cattle visibly, then the most cost-effective way is to attach the electronic identification chip to the tag," said one of the consultants.

The cost of electronic tags, currently about £2 each, would fall if there was a huge order for all Scotlands 2.1m cattle, the consultants believe.

Farmers are keen to push ahead with the project. In a report presented to Mr Finnie last week, the main recommendation from the Scottish red-tape review panel – a group of farmers and crofters representatives charged with suggesting ways to cut the regulatory burden – was the immediate introduction of EID.

The benefits would come from simplifying and improving record-keeping, significantly reducing the number of livestock inspections required and the time taken when inspections were needed, and from the greatly extended traceability of the Scottish herd, the panel said.

Mr Finnie said he was fully aware of the tremendous benefits that a national scheme could bring. But there were serious cost implications to be considered. It is estimated that a switch to EID in Scotland would cost about £7m.

That would cover tagging of all cattle and the purchase of electronic readers for farmers, livestock markets and abattoirs.

In the red-tape report, the group, chaired by Scottish NFU vice-president Peter Chapman, said: "If such a project were to be undertaken, producers might be prepared to carry some of the costs, recognising the long-term benefits to all concerned."

ELECTRONIC ID

&#8226 For all Scotlands cattle.

&#8226 Tags the best option?

&#8226 Total cost about £7m.

An end to conventional tagging? Scotlands cattle industry is to discuss introducing electronic tagging for the national herd at a summit on Feb 26.