Farm ministers in tandem to put UK case over sheep tags

NFU Scotland last night praised the efforts of UK farm ministers in going to Brussels to fight against the proposed 100 per cent accuracy requirement on sheep identification.

Speaking after meeting health commissioner John Dalli, the UK agriculture minister, Jim Paice, and Scotland's secretary for rural affairs and the environment Richard Lochhead, claimed it has been a "constructive discussion."

They said the meeting allowed them to explain the distinctive nature of the sheep industry in all parts of the UK, the challenges it faces and the need to accept that some electronic identification reading error will occur.

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Paice said he had stressed the UK's determination to deliver a system which provided traceability. "Because of the frequency and volume of sheep movements in the UK, we need flexibility that recognises that delivering 100 per cent read rates is not always achievable," he said.

The problem for sheep farmers, if the EU insists on 100 per cent accuracy, is penalties for discrepancies will be trimmed off single farm payments.

Arguing the case for Scotland, Lochhead pointed out the significant investment already made in buying electronic checking systems, albeit ones that do not deliver 100 per cent accuracy.

"I made the point strongly today that penalising farmers who do not achieve 100 per cent accuracy is unjust and unfair," he said. "I stressed that for Scottish farmers, given the nature of the Scottish sheep flock, this is both impractical and unworkable.

He added that he would continue to work on the problem until a workable solution was found.

Union president Nigel Miller, who met Lochhead in Brussels after the Dalli meeting, said: "Europe is likely to look further at the UK as a whole as well as the individual implementation plans for each devolved area. In Scotland, government and stakeholders have developed what we believe to be a robust system, delivering full traceability backed up through a central database for movements."

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