Euro-MP in farm visit over sheep tags plan

Feb 14 2003

By Anna Lognonne, The Journal


A European MP who is writing a crucial report on the viability of new sheep identification proposals is visiting a Northumberland hill farm tomorrow.

Gordon Adam, MEP in the North- East, will speak to sheep farmers about traceability and identification during the NFU-organised fact-finding visit at Ottercops Farm, Kirkwhelpington, north-west of Newcastle.

Mr Adam is writing a report for the European Parliament about the viability of a proposed system of identifying every sheep with an individual number.

The proposals have been greeted with dismay and horror by North-East sheep producers who say they are completely unworkable and would actually undermine traceability of sheep in this country.

Malcolm Corbett, NFU less favoured areas delegate for the North Pennines, farms sheep and cattle near Rochester, Northumberland. He said the UK sheep industry was unique in Europe.

"Essentially, sheep are bred in the hills and lambs are fattened in lowland areas. The British sheep industry has evolved over centuries using this system and it necessitates moving sheep from hill farms to lowland farms. We already have a high level of traceability in the national sheep flock, particularly as all movements are recorded with the local trading standards authority. A new identification scheme has also come into operation this month identifying sheep by which farm they are on.

"But the latest European proposals suggest putting an individually numbered tag in the ears of new-born lambs. When the sheep are sold, farmers would have to record every individual number.

"As every sheep farmer will say, the proposals are completely impractical. Can you imagine, for instance, a farmer who is selling a batch of 150 sheep trying to accurately note down each individual 14-digit identification number during an autumnal storm?

"We also have to consider the welfare issue of fixing tags big enough to be read into new-born lambs. Sheep are very inquisitive animals and have a tendency of pushing their heads through fences which would rip the tags off. We will get lambs with horribly shredded ears, and legislation telling us to drive another tag into them.

"Farmers have no objections to traceability. In fact, after foot-and- mouth disease, they realise it is a necessity, but these proposals are so impractical that they will reduce the traceability in this country, not improve it.

"These proposal are wrong. They are proposing bad legislation and the NFU will not support them."