Chaos to follow cattle tag change?


By Emma Penny


A CHANGE in cattle tagging regulations is likely to cause confusion and potential manufacturer backlogs in the New Year.


Likely problems stem from a move to all numeric tags, rather than the alpha numeric system of letters and numbers currently used.


Cattle producers will not receive notification of their new herd number until early January, and tag manufacturers cannot use the governments tag allocation system ETAS for numeric tags before 4 January, 2000.


Current EU regulations state that all animals born after 31 December, 1999 must carry a numeric tag, although the closure of ETAS means the legislation will not be applied until 17 January in Britain.


The concern is that there is presently no transition period when both numeric and alphanumeric tags can be used.


That, combined with the fact that numeric tags cant be produced before January is likely to lead to confusion and a backlog at tag manufacturers, warns NFU livestock policy advisor Carol Lloyd.


“We need to know whether there is a transitional period; if not, we will have to change to all numeric tagging as of 17 January, which will cause problems.”


A backlog might mean a delay in being able to tag and move calves, which could prove to be a particular problem as tagging deadlines will tighten after 1 January.


After 1 January, dairy calves must have one tag applied within 36 hours of birth, and the second tag within 20 days, while beef calves must be tagged within 20 days of birth, rather than the 30-day limit at present.


Passport application deadlines will also fall, and must be applied for within seven days of tagging rather than the current 15. Any backlog is likely to make adhering to new deadlines more difficult.


According to Ms Lloyd, MAFF has approached the EU to ask for a transitional period, but hasnt yet heard whether it will be allowed. “A transitional period would ease the pressure,” she says.


Richard Webber of tag manufacturer Shearwell Data agrees. “The industry could cope if there was an indication of how long we could run a dual system.”


One source also points out that last time legislation demanded a change in eartags – the move to double tagging – the backlog in some cases took months to clear.


This time, producers will require new primary and secondary tags, rather than just ordering a second tag to match those held on farm, giving concern that backlogs may be even greater.


“An option to help clear the backlog might be that manufacturers could only cash cheques three weeks before they produce that farmers tags.


“That way, if theres a backlog then producers could at least choose to move their business to another company if they require tags urgently – theyre not locked into that transaction.”


All numeric tags can be ordered now for manufacture and dispatch in January. Ordering now would at least ensure a place nearer the top of the queue, says Ms Lloyd.


But Mr Webber believes producers should ask when ordering how close to the top of the queue they are. “Get a firm commitment from manufacturers about when you will get your tags, then at least you will know where you stand.”


The MLCs Archie Sains, who is involved in animal identification matters, says producers should ensure they have enough alpha numeric tags to take them into the new year.


“ETAS will not process orders for new alpha numeric tags after 17 December, although replacement tags will still be available.”


He also points out that every herd will be forced to start tagging with the number one under the new system. “MAFF wont allow tags to run on from the last number used – every herd must start at 001.”


There may also be problems with tag numbers when cattle are imported from Northern Ireland, he warns.


“Every tag has a check digit derived from a logarithm of all numbers in the tag. In Britain, the middle number is the check, but in Northern Ireland theyve chosen the last number; its an unnecessary cause for confusion.”


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