Furious farmers demand U-turn on tagging plan
Farm leaders claim compulsory electronic tagging of sheep will cost farmers €2m a year
FARMERS and the Department of Agriculture are on a collision course this week following the announcement of compulsory electronic tagging (EID) for all sheep from October 1.
The introduction of EID has led to a furious reaction from farmers, with flock owners accusing the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, of caving in to the meat sector lobby on the issue.
A high-level meeting is taking place this afternoon between the IFA and Department officials. The IFA is insisting that Minister Creed will have to row back on his decision which they claim will cost farmers €2 million a year.
“This move by the minister, on top of his decision on the clean sheep policy and the severe hardship this spring, shows a lack of understanding of how sheep farms work and the pressures farmers are under,” said IFA president Joe Healy.
From October 1 lambs under 12 months of age that are going directly to slaughter from the holding of birth will require a single electronic tag.
All other sheep will require an EID tag set comprising two tags — one conventional tag and a corresponding electronic tag.
A conventional tag and an EID bolus will also be permitted.
The farm organisations claim the introduction of EID tagging will put unnecessary costs on flocks where lambs are born and reared and sent directly to slaughter, as well as the low-margin hill sheep sector.
They are also angry over what they believe was an absence of consultation by Minister Creed on the matter, a claim which has been challenged by the Department.
INHFA president Colm O’Donnell accused Minister Creed of going on a solo-run on EID.
John Brooks of the ICSA said electronic tagging would cost thousands of farmers like him an additional €1.20 a head for a tag that would be on a lamb for just a few hours.
“I tag the lambs as they go to the factory. So two or three hours after I tag them, the lambs will be slaughtered and the tags thrown away,” Mr Brooks said.
He said offering sheep farmers €50 towards the costs of EID was akin to throwing them “a few pieces of silver”.
Minister Creed claimed the new regime would “provide a more robust sheep traceability system” which would “assist in maintaining existing markets and in securing new international outlets for Irish sheep meat”.
However, these assertions were rejected by the farm organisations, who maintain that the EID tags do not guarantee traceability from ‘farm to fork’ because the factories use a batch traceability system for sheep carcasses once lambs, hoggets or ewes are slaughtered.
Plants do not as a rule trace individual carcasses.
THE farm organisations also maintain that in new markets, such as the US, Japan or China, Irish exporters would be competing primarily with New Zealand which has no sheep tagging or individual animal identification regime.
Minister Creed said the move to full EID, and the proposed inclusion of EID readers as an eligible investment in TAMS, would make the recording of the movement of lambs off farm much more convenient and “greatly simplify the paperwork involved for sheep farmers”.
However, the farm organisations contended that the real beneficiaries of EID would be the meat factories, as the current requirement to read thousands of individual sheep tags and cross-check them with delivery documentation would be completely simplified and streamlined by the use of EID readers.
“Farmers are being asked to pay for EID but it’s the factories who stand to make money and savings out of this,” said John Brooks.
The extension of the EID to all sheep has been welcomed by the factory representative body, Meat Industry Ireland (MII).
“This is a necessary step to further underpin our sheep traceability system and will put the sector on a sound footing for future development,” said Cormac Healy of MII.
“The extension of EID to all sheep ensures that Ireland keeps pace with developments in other major sheep-producing member states in the EU.
“This is critically important to the positioning of Irish lamb in the marketplace and to competing for key customer accounts.”
However, Colm O’Donnell of the INHFA said that moving to full EID in the middle of the store lamb trading season showed “just how out of touch our Department is with the industry”.
“If they insist with the start date then tagging derogations to use slaughter tags for all store lamb movements between now and then will have to be given where these lambs are slaughtered after October 1,” he said.