What is EID and what does it mean for sheep farmers? PETER MORRIS, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, explains
What is EID and what does it mean for sheep farmers? PETER MORRIS, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, explainsEU Council regulation 21/2004 is a series of words and numbers that are implanted on the brain of all sheep industry representatives who strive to repel the never ending barrage of EU regulations that seem to breed faster than even the most amorous of rabbits.This particular regulation is the one which sits behind the proposed requirement to electronically record individual sheep movements (EID), and it is this regulation which has so agitated the sheep industry ever since it was approved in Brussels in 2004. As the start date for implementation of the regulation, January 1, 2010, draws ever nearer, there are genuine concerns amongst sheep keepers about the cost implications and the reliability of the equipment as well as the prospect of coping with the IT demands in a working farm situation. However, above all of that, there still remains the unanswerable question which is quite simply why are we being forced to do this and what will the benefit be for anybody?To set the scene a little, when the regulation was introduced in 2004 there were many concerns about sheep relating to food safety and disease spread which have now been either largely dismissed or countered in other ways. However, in 2004, the risks associated with moving sheep and knowing where they had come from were perceived to be high and answers and alternatives needed to mitigate those risks were not available.The Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001, the initial spread of which was blamed on sheep movements, the theoretical risk of BSE being present in the UK sheep flock, the risk of fraud in relation to headage payments on sheep, and the general growing desire amongst regulators to be able to track down every individual animal at a moment’s notice were the main drivers in taking this regulation forward. The UK position was weak and the ability of our government to oppose this regulation was limited at that time, even though it was known then that we had the largest sheep flock in the EU and it was the UK industry that stood to lose the most as a result of its introduction. It must be remembered, that in the eyes of our fellow EU member states it was the UK that had brought BSE and all that went with it upon all of their industries, and it was the UK that had been responsible for the FMD disaster. There is no doubt that the UK was viewed in animal health terms as the dirty man of Europe and, in the view of some, that perception has still not changed. As the EU saw it, traceability had to improve within the sheep industry and to eventually arrive at a system which would see every individual sheep movement recorded, and every individual sheep have an electronic device was deemed to be the best way of achieving those aims.The UK did gain some concessions at the time. The EU did recognise that our industry was different and that we needed to implement the regulation in our own way so there was a little flexibility. However, underlying all of that, there was still the requirement that at some point EID and the ability it would give to record individual sheep movements and identities would be introduced into the UK flock.Time has passed since 2004 but the arguments and debates have continued ever since. Much has changed and the original rationale for the introduction of EID has been negated. Six day standstills are in place which reduce risks of disease spread, the possibility of BSE being present in the UK sheep flock has been dismissed even within the risk-adverse scientific community, and the headage payments which were potentially open to fraud and abuse have been discontinued. However, doing away with the reasons for introducing a regulation seems to be much easier than preventing the introduction of the regulation itself – with or without good reason! So, if this regulation is introduced in 2010, and we have to be realistic and say that it is very likely that this will be the case, what will it mean for UK sheep keepers and what impact will it have? Well, the answer is that we don’t really know as much of the implementation detail is still to be negotiated and debated between industry and government and with the EU as well. However, there are some basic principles we do know, and these are as follows:All sheep born after December 31, 2009, and not intended for slaughter within 12 months, will need to have an EID device either as part of a tag with a visual number or within a ruminal bolus.These sheep will need to have two identifiers, either two identical tags, one of which has the EID within it, or a tag and a bolus with the electronic number within it.The visual number that is on the tag will be identical to the electronic number that is on the EID device and will reflect the holding number as well as an individual number for the sheep.There are no decisions yet on what ID sheep intended for slaughter at less than 12 months of age will need. It may be that they don’t have to have EID.The flock register will need to have individual animal identities within it and will be updated based on individual animals.As of January 1, 2011, movement documents for these animals will need to have individual animal identities recorded on them when the animals are moved off the holdingAs of January 1, 2012, animals born before January 2010 will need to have their individual identities on movement documents if the move is other than to slaughter.These basic rules are all fine and dandy and they give us something to work with, but the truth is that the real cost and inconvenience will only be known when the full details emerge, and that will be in the coming months in the lead up to 2010. For example, it is by no means certain that all sheep keepers will need to have an EID reader, which if they did would be a considerable cost. It may be that those with a few sheep will choose to read the numbers manually rather than have an electronic reader. That is fine, but the animal will still need to have the EID device even if it is read electronically or not.In terms of cost again, there is a lack of information as manufacturers of EID tags and equipment remain unwilling to show their hand at this stage. Certainly it will be the case that a pair of tags with one containing an EID device will be less than £1 to buy, but how much less remains to be seen. Some say 70p, but it is difficult to see that it will be substantively less than that even if it gets down to that level. Readers will vary hugely from a couple of hundred pounds to many thousands for the larger race readers which will be all singing and all dancing.The great sadness in this entire row over the compulsory EID is that there are many situations where recording sheep information to the degree of accuracy that EID will allow is a positive management benefit. However, there are many farm situations where any benefit that could be gained will be outweighed by the extra costs involved. Because this is being forced on the industry, and because there is so much negativity surrounding it, there are many farmers who will be discouraged from taking advantage of the potential benefits that EID can bring. If its introduction had been voluntary then many more people would have put EID in their sheep for positive reasons and the whole industry could have moved forward much more quickly as a result.So, as things stand, the advice that must be given to sheep keepers everywhere is to keep yourself informed of what is going on and be aware that, most likely at the start of 2010, sheep identification and movement recording requirements will change once again. The level of detail and information required on movement documents and on the flock register kept on farm will increase significantly and this will inevitably require more time and effort to be spent.Smallholders ‘will be least affected’Comment by CS writer TIM TYNE:
Despite the current uproar relating to the impending introduction of mandatory electronic identification (EID) for sheep, I believe that smallholders will, in fact, be the least affected sector of the industry. Most smallholders already record the individual sheep within their flocks, and are generally only dealing with a small number of animals. The additional cost of EID is unlikely to be an insurmountable burden to the hobby flock owner. It will not be necessary for everyone to invest in high-tech gadgetry and software, as the electronic tags will also include a visually readable number.The people who will be hardest hit by the new legislation are the medium sized family farms, already on the brink financially, and anyone moving large batches of sheep from various sources on a regular basis, such as livestock dealers.
Knock-on effectHaving said that, there will be knock-on effects felt in all sectors, due to general disruption to the infrastructure of sheep farming in Britain.Ironically, EID will not achieve its aim of traceability within the sheep industry. There is no hope of this while the current six-day standstill rule applies. Currently as many as 60% (an educated estimate) of the movement licenses submitted to Trading Standards may be falsified in order to circumvent the standstill, making a mockery of the whole system. Everyone is involved, from the smallest smallholders to the largest abattoirs. EID will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to a system that is already flawed. The suggested derogation to allow lambs to move to slaughter without individual ID is laughable – if traceability is the aim, then surely animals entering the food chain are the ones that should be traceable?Removing the six-day standstill would remove the incentive to make false declarations of livestock movements, which would go a long way towards achieving the desired level of traceability, regardless of the type of ID used. Perhaps the industry could negotiate a trade off?Personally I do not have a problem with individual recording, although I’d rather have some choice in the matter.
PICTURE: Shearwell Data Ltd