12 September 1997

Two ID tags needed – but no management data

Cattle producers now have clearer guidance on new identification legislation due to be introduced on Jan 1, 1998. Emma Penny reports

NEITHER of the two tags used to identify cattle born or imported into the UK after Jan 1, 1998 will be allowed to carry management information.

Only official information will be allowed on both tags. Producers will not be allowed to enter additional information such as the animals sire. That is according to latest proposals, which MAFF says may, but are unlikely to, change.

Limiting tag data to only official information means producers who rely on management information, such as the animals sire, borne on a tag will have to insert a third tag, or use part of the identification number as a management number. The latter is the option favoured by MLC senior industry strategy consultant Archie Sains.

"I would strongly encourage producers to use part of the 12 digit official number – the last three or four digits – as a management number. It appears to be acceptable to have those numbers in larger print as long as they are in a horizontal line."

As of Jan 1, 1998, all cattle born in or imported into the UK must be double tagged. One tag is to be the primary tag, the other the secondary tag, explains Mr Sains.

The primary tag must be plastic, and will show the logo of the issuing authority – a crown in the case of the UK. It will also show the letters UK, and the unique herd mark and animal number, which are already in use.

Size and type of the primary tag is also specified. It must be a two-piece tag, with male and female parts, each of which must be a minimum of 55mm (2.2in) wide and 45mm (1.7in) in length. This means cattle will have a tag in the front of the ear, which will connect to the other part of the tag at the back of the ear. Both parts of the tag will be the same size. Printing on the tag must be a minimum of 5mm (0.2in) high.

Mr Sains says there is nothing in the proposals about which ear the primary tag must be put into. "The ministry has yet to decide whether to offer guidance on that, but current thinking is that it will be left to producer preference."

For the secondary tag, which must show exactly the same details as the primary tag, producers can opt for any approved tag, says Mr Sains. "Small metal tags will be acceptable for the secondary tag, as will button tags, and small and large plastic tags. But only plastic tags are acceptable as the primary tag." Producers can use any MAFF-approved tag. But this list may become substantially shorter, cautions Mr Sains. "It may be that tags will have to meet more rigorous durability, retention and readability requirements."

Use of the alpha-numeric system – based on letters and numbers – has also come under close scrutiny. But this is likely to stay in use for the next two to three years, after which there is a strong possibility that the system will be based on numbers only, he says.

"There is disarray within the EU on this subject. Italy is totally opposed to an all-numeric system and is blocking the legislation. Four or five other member states have also said they wish to retain the alpha-numeric system."

Mr Sains believes the concurrent introduction of new tagging legislation and the cattle database, with the added complication of introducing numeric identification, would be a bridge too far.

According to MAFF, when the numeric system is introduced it will apply only to animals born after that date. The ministry also states that adequate notice of the change will be given, but says producers should only order sufficient tags to meet immediate needs.

Mr Sains also warns that authorities are likely to be far more rigorous in ensuring animals are correctly tagged, and possess passports which are an exact mirror image of tag information.

"If animals lose a tag they should be re-tagged within seven days with the same number. Tag manufacturers should be able to cope with this request, and their turn-around time is fairly quick." &#42

Cattle must be double tagged from Jan 1, 1998, but no management marks will be allowed on either tag, according to proposals.

Proposed tagging requirements

&#8226 All cattle born or imported into the UK from Jan 1, 1998 must be double tagged.

&#8226 Tags known as the primary and secondary tags.

&#8226 Primary tag – largest, must be plastic. Can only show logo of issuing authority (a crown), the letters UK, the unique herd mark and animal number which is already in use.

&#8226 Secondary tag – details to be provided, but all approved tags acceptable, ie, small metal, button, small and large plastic tags.

&#8226 Details on secondary tag must be the same as on the primary tag.

&#8226 No management information can be entered on either tag.

&#8226 Allowance for use of existing tag stocks already on-farm. The additional complementary tag can be purchased from tag makers.

&#8226 No immediate change in herd mark and animal number codes on tags. Change to number-only tags likely within two to three years, but adequate notice (12 months) to be given.

&#8226 It is illegal to move cattle which are not properly tagged.