Electronic tags for livestock are coming – but at what cost?

A reliable system of electronic tagging for both cattle and sheep is up and running, farmers were told at the Scottish Beef Cattle Association’s Beef Fayre at Lanark mart.

The claim came from John Bailey, chairman of the group representing UK electronic tag manufacturers, who accused NFU Scotland of trading on out-of-date information in seeking to stall the introduction of electronic ID.

“Technology has moved on over the past four years and the industry needs to work together with government to develop an electronic ID system which will make life much easier for farmers, abattoirs and auction marts,” said Mr Bailey.

“Following the failures in the recording of sheep movements identified by EU inspectors during their recent audit, we can expect electronic ID to be imposed on us sooner rather than later.”

But NFU Scotland vice-president Nigel Miller admitted he was impressed with a demonstration by Allflex at the Beef Fayre showing the capability of EID systems to record up to 2000 sheep an hour. Tag numbers are individually scanned in a batch of sheep and sent via mobile telephone or computer to a central database.

“The technology is there and it’s impressive,” he said. “It has the potential to end the paper chase of traceability. But it’s got to work in the field and be cost effective. It would be relatively easy to do this with cattle, but issues remain with sheep.”

Mr Bailey dismissed suggestions that the high cost of scanning equipment and associated software to read tags was prohibitive and suggested the cost could be as little as £1000 for equipment which could be shared. He conceded that the cost of EID tags at 70p each was an issue, particularly for sheep.

He appealed to government to spell out which system they wanted, the point at which animals needed to be scanned and the information which required to be recorded.