BORDERS sheep farmers last week heaved a sigh of relief after the European Commission relaxed its hardline demand for 100 per cent accuracy on electronic identification (EID).
Under the new regime Scottish farmers must comply with the EU regulations to avoid penalties, but there will be some leeway at inspections to account for technology failures and the difficulties with gathering sheep on extensive hill ground.
Scottish Government officials are now finalising guidance for sheep farmers, including how to reduce the risk of incurring cross compliance penalties.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “I do not for a minute pretend the regime will be easy for many producers, but I hope this news will at least lift the fear that unavoidable errors would lead to draconian penalties. This has been the source of anxiety for many.”
And NFU Scotland president, Stow farmer Nigel Miller said: “This announcement indicates recognition at a European level of the high traceability standards being achieved by the sheep industry in Scotland.”
The EID system which started last year aims to track the movements of individual sheep via electronic tags in their ears.
But farmers, MPs and MEPs argued it wasn’t possible to have the 100 per cent accuracy in tracing them the EC rules demanded due to technology failures and the huge acreages livestock farmers tended.
The Scottish Government helped fund setting up an electronic identificaton database and scanners at markets and abattoirs for recording and, along with farmers, argued for a proportionate compliance system.
Mr Lochhead continued: “To help the sheep sector, we have invested £5million to deliver a system that meets Scottish needs and addresses the animal health and traceability issues, while limiting the burden on farmers. I’m hopeful that farmers will now be able to meet the requirements of the new system, safeguarding some £600million of EU support each year.”
The rules require double tagging, including one EID tag, for sheep being kept which are more than a year old, single EID tagging for lambs to be slaughtered before 12 months of age, and completing detailed movement, tagging records, and maintaining an up-to-date flock register.
Mr Miller said: “It is a welcome relief that Scottish Government and sheep industry stakeholders are to see some pay back for all the investment and energy which has gone into developing the Scottish sheep EID system, with its own database and a network of scanners at markets and abattoirs facilitating movement reporting.
“We have secured the flexibility around compliance with the rules that we desperately needed to allow us to keep operating without getting wrapped up in a bureaucratic nightmare. Recognition that our pragmatic system is acceptable is a real win for sense over compliance.”
Borders MP Michael Moore, who recently discussed the issue in Brussels said: “It has caused huge concern to farmers in the Borders. This decision to offer greater flexibility to farmers in more challenging terrain will certainly be a welcome step for Borderers.
“While we will have to wait to see how these changes work in practice I know that this announcement will come as a real boost to our local agricultural sector.’