Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has welcomed the final passage of new EU laws regulating the identification of cattle, and its common sense approach on the phasing in of electronic means of identification.
The regulation, subject to years of inter-institutional negotiation and which was passed by the Parliament's plenary last tonight by 386 votes to 228, sets out a common technical standard and framework for electronic ear tags and ruminal boluses, and requires Member States to develop the capability to implement the technology, but critically makes the use of electronic ID voluntary for farmers, unless their Member State decides to make it mandatory.
The decision comes as a welcome relief for farmers after the debacle of mandatory electronic ID for sheep, with a bottom-up market-driven approach designed: this should ensure that the technology will only be compulsory when the technology is perfected and the added economic value for farmers is assured.
"This is a great piece of news for Scottish beef producers. It was important that lessons were learned from the fiasco which was sheep EID: expensive, unreliable technology, administratively burdensome and not even fully necessary to promote disease control. There was always a stronger case to begin with cattle, with electronic technology being more cost effective and bringing associated economic benefits such as better information for farmers about the state of their herd.
"I'm pleased that lessons have indeed been learned: the voluntary approach should mean that the uptake of the technology will be driven by farmers themselves based on actual benefits demonstrated from use of EID. Technology standards should be the same across Europe to encourage trade, and it's quite right that we have EU rules ensuring this.
"I'm also happy that the voluntary beef labelling rules have been done away with: in Brussels we like to talk the talk about reducing red tape but don't always walk the walk. There are robust general rules in place banning misleading information on labels: there is no reason why there should be an additional procedure purely for beef products by which additional labelling has to be specifically confirmed as OK.
"Overall a good night's work for the beef sector, and a good example of how the EU really can add value."
The regulation also sets out rules regarding unique identification numbers, the timing of tagging after birth (within 20 days, but for the second piece of ID it can be 60), rules determining ID and record requirements for movements of cattle, particularly when the cattle come from third countries, and the framework for violations and penalties for those violations, which usually involve restrictions on the movements of animals.
On a related subject, it also eliminates the rules on voluntary beef labelling: previously those selling beef products would have to submit for authorisation any wording on the packet label which went beyond the compulsory requirements. Given that a new general law on food labelling passed two years ago, this provision was considered redundant and has been scrapped to boost administrative simplification.