68% of Scotland's sheep farmers have thought about giving up sheep farming altogether because of concern over the EU's Regulation on Electronic Identification of Sheep.
That is the conclusion of a survey conducted by Alyn Smith, SNP MEP and member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, of Shetland livestock farmers. Alyn hit on the idea of surveying all Shetland farmers because the islands are an identifiable part of Scotland and the results are directly analogous to the experience of Scotland's sheep farmers as a whole. The findings have given additional weight to the Scottish Government's ongoing campaign to make the regulation as workable as possible while continuing to build the case for additional refinements to the legislation.
The survey, sent out over the summer to all livestock farmers in Shetland, asked about the repercussions of the EID regulation, questioning them over the impact it has had on their business, their flock and sought to gauge support for any future derogations which have the potential to make the regulation more workable.
The results were unequivocal: of the 293 responses received from 928 surveys mailed out, 91% reported problems with sheep losing tags, 87% reported problems of sheep with damaged ears and 89% complained about the additional costs of the electronic tags and associated equipment. Of most concern, 68% of 284 respondents (those who answered this particular question) said EID had made them consider giving up sheep farming altogether.
The survey results were presented today to the European Commission Agriculture Directorate General by Alyn and Shetland Crofter Norman Leask and will be formally sent to European Commissioners Ciolos and Dalli - Commissioners for Agriculture and Health respectively - reiterating the case for an urgent review of the regulation.
"EID remains a legal obligation on the Scottish Government and the sector, but I promised we would not let this drop. This dossier of credible evidence strengthens our call for a review of the regulation. We in Scotland are doing our best to make the regulation as workable as possible but the fact is this regulation was flawed from the start.
"The Commissioners have already said they are open to the idea of a review of the regulation if evidence emerges that it can be reformed to make it more workable. This dossier does that. Legislation was passed with the expectation that the technology would have advanced before the start date and it simply hasn't. We haven't seen the progress we needed to see to make this regulation workable. One key refinement to the regulation - don't tag the beast until it leaves the holding of birth - would be a workable change to the regulation and would go a long way to winning back the goodwill of Scotland's farmers.
"The Scottish Government has worked very hard to make the roll out of these rules as straightforward as possible, and has made things markedly easier for our farmers by succeeding in negotiating derogations with the European Commission. Yet the fact remains that our farmers are walking away from the industry thanks to the difficulties that this regulation has created. That 80% of those that have destocked since 2011 state that difficulties associated with electronic tagging were a key element of their decision to do so is an astounding number and confirms exactly what I suspected - this regulation is causing permanent damage to our sheep sector and it needs to be reviewed now.
"While the recent bovine EID proposal from the Commission shows that lessons have been learnt, they have been learnt too late for our sheep farmers unless we review and reform this legislation. We need this reviewed now and changes made before even more of our farmers walk away from this hugely important industry."