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EU sheep tagging plans a ‘disaster’

Aug 21 2008 by Andrew Forgrave, Daily Post

Article from Daily Post North Wales

ELECTRONIC identification of sheep could be as disastrous to Welsh farming as bluetongue and bovine TB, industry leaders believe.

NFU Cymru vice president Ed Bailey fears the EU plans could leave the Welsh countryside bereft of its most potent symbol – sheep.

He said the high costs of implementing electronic identification (EID) would cripple the Welsh sheep sector and force many farmers out of the industry.

“It is estimated that EID cost farmers £6 per head in the first year, knocking about 40% off their incomes overnight,” he said.

“I do worry about the long-term impact on farming incomes and the possibility that many producers will simply not afford to carry on.

“It could have a profound effect on the Welsh countryside as we know it.”

The industry is fighting a rearguard action against the plans, due to come into force in January 2010.

Unions still hope to secure a derogation for Britain, Europe’s main sheep-producing nation, but attempts to allow the voluntary introduction of EID have so far ended in failure.

The Farmers Union of Wales said the topic is high on the agenda on the summer show circuit. At tomorrow’s Denbigh & Flint county show farmers will be invited to sign the union’s online petition opposing the introduction of compulsory EID.

FUW Denbighshire chairman Glyn Jones said the regulation would amount to an additional tax on European sheep producers.

He said: “With money being lost on every sheep, the extra cost of tagging, coupled with the extra time taken to conform with the legislation, will simply add to those losses.”

EID trials are on-going on 14 farms in Wales, but results have not been encouraging.

Older farmers have struggled with the equipment, while the hardware and software produced by different companies has often been found to be incompatible. EID readers struggled to work in cold and wet conditions, and at markets and abattoirs equipment suffered electrical interference.

At one of the country’s largest abattoirs, a study found that, in perfect conditions, the equipment had a 93% success rate. It meant that, if EID was implemented, seven in every 100 sheep would have to be written off – probably more.

Derek Morgan, FUW hill farming committee chairman, has unsuccessfully trialled EID on some sheep at his Powys farm.

He said: “It would be uneconomical to use the system on my commercial hill flock.”

The industry claims its existing system of sheep identification, and batch recording of sheep movements, is an efficient and cost-effective way of controlling animal diseases.

Mr Bailey said the issue would not only be catastrophic for Welsh sheep farmers, it could also have knock-on effects on tourism and the wider rural economy.

“It could lead to land abandonment in some of Wales’ most sensitive areas as the industry plays a vital role in maintaining our landscape,” he said.

FUW vice president Glyn Roberts has an ongoing petition on the Prime Minister’s website at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/sheepEID/

 

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