Fu­ri­ous farm­ers de­mand U-turn on tag­ging plan

Farm lead­ers claim com­pul­sory elec­tronic tag­ging of sheep will cost farm­ers €2m a year

Irish Independent - Farming - - FRONT PAGE - LOUISE HO­GAN

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”.

Trace­abil­ity

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.

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