is on…

28 September 2001

Total sheep tag challenge

is on…

BY Christmas 2001 every single sheep in Irelands 8.5 million-strong flock will be required by law to carry its individual identity on its ears.

Fixing tags on to the ears of the entire ovine population, including those on the remote hills of the MacGillycuddys Reeks, will be a huge logistical task. Farmers face other problems as they come to terms with Irelands new National Sheep Identification System, including reams of extra paperwork.

But County Carlow sheep farmer Frank Corcoran is convinced that the pain will be worth going through for the benefits the system will bring. First and foremost, it will bring integrity to an industry that has had well documented problems with fraud that had threatened to tarnish the industrys international reputation.

This has generally taken the form of sheep from mainland Britain being smuggled via Northern Ireland into the Republic by dealers in search of higher prices and a 4.3% VAT rebate.

The scam was highlighted this spring when sheep tested positive for foot-and-mouth in Ireland that were meant to have gone for slaughter in Northern Ireland. They were heading for Irish abattoirs that had no way of knowing where they had come from.

"We export 70% of our sheepmeat," said Mr Corcoran who is chairman of the Irish Farmers Association sheep committee. "A lot of it goes to France and if they decided they were not happy with our traceability system we would have difficulties selling on that key market."

The NSIS will stamp out this type of fraud and assure international buyers of our integrity, Mr Corcoran said. The F&M outbreak has illustrated just how important the system is in terms of disease control, he added.

It has attracted the attentions of the UK sheep industry, which is looking closely at individual tagging in the wake of F&M. "We have had the Meat and Livestock Commission over here looking at the system," Mr Corcoran said.

The system is being phased in gradually. Tags, which cost about 20p each, became available in the spring in preparation for Midsummers day, June 21, when it became law for all sheep moving off holdings to be tagged. By December 15, all sheep remaining on farms must be tagged.

There have been problems and Mr Corcoran admits that not all farmers share his enthusiasm. "The biggest problems are the paperwork, tag loss and the difficulty of reading tag numbers when you are loading sheep," said Mr Corcoran who has a 250-ewe flock.

All movements on and off farm have to be accompanied by a dispatch document and are recorded in the flock register, which means a lot of extra paperwork. At the moment it is relatively straightforward to record identification numbers as animals leaving the farm are tagged in sequence.

The true test will be from December when batches are made up of sheep already tagged. "Each tag will have to be read which could be difficult when loading sheep in the dark, especially for farmers with poor eyesight," he said.

But these problems, he insisted, must be balanced against the confidence the system will give consumers and retailers across the globe. They buy the product.

he said.


&#8226 By Dec 15, 2001, all sheep must have a tag in the left ear bearing flock and individual number.

&#8226 All movements on and off farm are accompanied by a dispatch document listing tag numbers and recorded in a flock register within seven days.

&#8226 If sheep are moved to another farm, a new white tag is inserted in the right ear. The second tag is replaced by a new white tag if they go on to a third farm. If tags are lost, yellow replacement tags are used.

&#8226 Auction marts record all flock numbers of animals sold and stamp dispatch documents.

&#8226 Meat factories stamp dispatch documents and record the link between ear tag and carcass numbers.

&#8226 Imported sheep carry red ear tags with flock and individual numbers, plus any existing tags.

&#8226 It will be an offence to buy, sell, own or process any untagged sheep. Tag details and movements will be monitored by central computer.

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