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Coveney Announces Sheep Electronic Tagging (EID) Arrangements

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, today reminded farmers that the practice of re-tagging slaughter lambs on a second or subsequent holding is not permitted under the National Sheep Identification System (NSIS). Under NSIS, all sheep born since 31st December 2009 must retain one identity for life from the holding of origin and that tag number must be recorded accurately on the movement documentation when sheep are moving off a holding. One ID for life is at the heart of the EU legislation and Ireland, in line with all other Member States is obliged to continue to implement this requirement under the revised NSIS. The only exceptions to this are where tags are lost, where tags are upgraded to EID as lambs are being retained for breeding, or being exported live.

Minister Coveney further reminded fatteners/farmers that they must accurately record the individual tag numbers on the dispatch/ movement document when the lambs are moving off the holding, or face the risk of cross compliance penalties for failure to keep accurate and complete records under NSIS. This information is necessary both for the NSIS record keeping requirements and for the requirements of slaughterhouses and/or marts that are required to have records of these tag numbers in order to maintain traceability to the flock of origin.  The Minister said "lambs that are electronically tagged at the holding of origin at the outset, on a voluntary basis, have a definite attractiveness over conventionally tagged lambs as they can be scanned instead of manually having to record the tag numbers. Furthermore, lambs that are identified with an EID tag set have the additional attractiveness in that they require no further tagging to comply with EU or NSIS rules whether they are being purchased by slaughterhouses, fatteners, exporters or being retained for breeding".

In the case of sheep that are electronically identified it will also be possible for these lambs to be scanned on arrival at a slaughterhouse or mart that is an approved Central Point of Recording (CPR). Under NSIS the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will allow for the provision of a facility whereby slaughterhouses and marts that meet certain requirements can be approved as a CPR. An approved CPR can provide the farmer with a list of the tag numbers of the animals in a given consignment for association with the relevant dispatch/movement document. While the farmer will still have to complete a dispatch/movement document this will save him/her having to manually read and write down on the dispatch/movement document all the tag numbers of the sheep making up the consignment.  The Minister said that "factories and marts should co-operate in the provision of a CPR service to the farmer".  Greater use of EID tags will contribute towards accurate record keeping assured traceability and help avoid cross compliance penalties".

The Minister emphasised that Ireland has made significant progress so far in the implementation of EID in sheep since 2010.  To date some 1.7 million EID tags sets have been purchased by Irish farmers. "I am anxious to keep up the momentum on implementation of the final elements of EID in sheep and the necessary revisions to NSIS because there are significant benefits for the sector in having a robust identification and traceability system, not least in continued and improved market access for our sheepmeat products. Indeed, EID affords many opportunities to build on the progress already made from a disease control and food safety perspective" according to the Minister.

The Minister also announced that an Information Booklet detailing the provisions of the modified NSIS is being issued to all sheep farmers over the coming weeks. Farmers will already have been advised of the various changes to NSIS to facilitate the introduction of EID since 2010 but for ease of reference all the various changes have now been consolidated in the booklet.  Farmers are urged to read this booklet which gives information on the rules that they must comply with for sheep tagging/identification, movement, record keeping and census returns under NSIS. The booklet also gives useful guidance on when to use the various types of tags/boluses and on the correct way to apply approved ear tags.

The co-operation of farmers is important if we are to achieve a successful outcome in the implementation of EID. Minister Coveney, mindful that farmers may have concerns in areas such as cross compliance, animal welfare and individual animal movement recording, said

"I want to assure farmers that all these matters will be kept under constant review and to stress that it is not the intention that farmers should be subject to any harsher application of cross compliance penalties arising from the introduction of EID".  The Minister further said that "within the framework of EU rules on cross compliance, my Department will take a sensible approach to EID and farmers should not be liable for any malfunctioning of EID tags where all other aspects of their record keeping are in order".

Minister Coveney acknowledged animal welfare concerns regarding sheep tagging and the risk of ear infection. In general the low infection rates can be further reduced by farmers following best practice for tagging sheep which includes correct placement of the tag in the ear, tagging at the correct time of year in order to avoid fly strike and also the disinfection of equipment and the sheep's ear prior to tagging each animal. His officials will work with farmers in finding solutions to any problems that may arise. Furthermore, the Minister said that his Department has no proposals to place an onus on individual flock keepers to record sheep individually on the Animal Identification and Movement System.

Note for Editors

In implementing EID in Ireland the Department applied the slaughter derogation consistent with EU rules, which had the effect of exempting lambs going for slaughter before 12 months from EID whether they are being sold for slaughter direct from the holding of origin or whether they are moved for slaughter via a mart or being traded as store lambs for fattening on a second or subsequent holding prior to slaughter.  A policy decision was also taken not to require the older sheep born before 2010 to be re-tagged with EID tags. This contrasts with the situation in Northern Ireland where a decision was taken to apply full EID without exception and to require the older animals to be EIDed with a tag set when leaving the holding.

The benefit to farmers of the application of the slaughter derogation in Ireland has been the fact that it has enabled Ireland to limit the number of animals affected by EID to the replacement breeding stock and to live sheep being exported. In essence, this means that the vast bulk of Irish sheep have not had to be EID tagged and practice and procedure has broadly remained the same under the new scheme.

Consistent with the rules, the practice of re-tagging animals, which has continued up to the present, can no longer be permitted. This change which comes into effect on 1St June 2012 will affect about 25% of animals going for slaughter.

Date Released: 10 April 2012