Hi-tech tagging goes down to wire

THE battle may not yet be lost, but it will come down to the wire as Scottish sheep farmers take their argument against the compulsory electronic identification of every animal to what will be a close call.

Surveys have indicted that if the proposal becomes law, up to 30 per cent of Scotland's greatly reduced breeding flock would disappear with huge social and economic consequences.

No-one objects to the requirement for a means of tracing the origin of every sheep in the chain: failure to do so exacerbated the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001. However, sheep farmers believe a sensible balance has to be struck.

Richard Lochhead, the Rural Affairs Secretary, has been subject to criticism on this issue. However, he stands firm ahead of a meeting today in London with the Westminster Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, which will be attended by the farm ministers from the devolved regions.

Speaking last night, Lochhead said: "Although Europe has made some concessions – delaying the original introduction date and allowing the regulations to be phased in – they do not go far enough.

"Any regulations must take into account circumstances and conditions in Scotland and I'll be seeking Hilary Benn's support that this is the case."

Meanwhile, George Milne, the development officer with the Scottish region of the National Sheep Association, will be in Germany later this week on a similar mission. He said: "Events like this must be to the benefit of all producers."

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