Minister to propose EU sheep tagging rule changes after meeting with farmers

CABINET Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead is expected to suggest changes to electronic sheep tagging (EID) rules this week.

The move comes after a meeting between stakeholders and Mr Lochhead last Wednesday following criticism from farming leaders.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It was a very productive meeting. There was agreement that the focus of the regulations should be on traceability.

“The Cabinet Secretary undertook to write to all those at the meeting in the next few days to outline ways in which this could be achieved, maximising emphasis on traceability and minimising red tape.

“He will also outline ways in which the case can be made to Brussels and Westminster using an evidence-based approach.”

Before the meeting, NFU Scotland made public the briefing it had sent to the government calling on it to be “more robust” in its dealings with Europe over EID and describing sheep farmers’ “frustration and anger” over the EU regulation.

Stow livestock farmer and president of the NFU Scotland, Nigel Miller on Tuesday described the meeting as “a listening exercise for government” saying its main focus had been establishing the priorities for change.

“There was acceptance that traceability is a must and was part of the deal – which we all bought into – but there was also a commitment to reassess the cross compliance standards and try and refocus them so some of the less relevant – like the flock register, which doesn’t give anything extra to traceability – get downgraded. The idea is to try and move the penalty system away from that flock register and avoid heavy controls and refocus it on things that really matter – that sheep are properly identified on the move and the moves are recorded so we can track animals and identify risk ones.”

He expected to hear from Mr Lochhead this week: “Hopefully it will be a road map of not just that priority but how they might look at getting some of the regulation changed along with other issues like tag quality.”

Last week’s NFU briefing, published as a letter signed by Mr Miller, said: “The present frustration and anger has been primarily triggered by uncertainty over compliance standards, the variable performance of readers at central control points and often poor tag performance.

“However, there remain fundamental issues regarding the prescriptive nature of the regulation, double tagging and the recording of information that does not impact on traceability. The [EID] regulation is seen to be disproportionate to the needs of traceability.”

He continued: “NFUS was supportive of the system implemented by Scottish Government but this support was on the explicit understanding that by adopting this robust traceability, flexibility would be required under cross compliance. Producers look to government to be more robust in its relationship with Europe.”

It said a mix of issues had created “a complex tide of mistrust and frustration”, adding: “The present situation can only be reversed with action at several levels in Scotland and Europe.”

The statement puts forward suggestions for change and says in the medium term the government should try to get Europe to remove the regulation from cross compliance – when farmers risk losing subsidies – or concentrate it only on critical traceability moves.

One priority is to change tagging rules to allow homebred ewes to run through their breeding life on one conventional flock tag which “would deliver full regulation ID and traceability during the movement phase when traceability is crucial.”

The statement goes on: “This minor modification delivers real on-farm benefits and in no way compromises the regulation’s traceability standards.

“Another, perhaps less difficult, route to change tagging standards may be to add clauses to the proposed cattle EID regulation to modify sheep standards. This might be framed to give member states the flexibility to define tagging standards or trigger points on farm but make it mandatory for full identification to be applied prior to movement out of the ownership/ business of birth.”

Mr Miller said the union “warmly welcomed” the EU’s deadline extention for compulsory electronic tagging of sheep born before January 1 last year from the end of this month to the end of 2014.

Mr Lochhead’s letter had not been issued before TheSouthern went to press yesterday.