Scots Lead Anti Sheep ID Fight In Brussels

07 October 2008
A top level delegation from Scotland's sheep sector has presented to the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee the practical objections to the flawed electronic ID scheme, and received a sympathetic response from the committee.

The delegation was joined by representatives from Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England to present a united front on the issue, in a presentation organised by Scotland's only full member of the Agriculture Committee Alyn Smith.

EID proposals have been agreed to by member state governments and the European Commission has been tasked to implement the scheme by the end of 2009. However, Smith fears that the technology is unproven and as well as being undeliverable it will actually represent a step backwards from current Scots best practice. He also fears that the increased cost and inconvenience will be the straw that breaks the back of many already struggling farms if the scheme is implemented. He has been in the vanguard of efforts in the European Parliament to combat the scheme, drafting a Written Declaration for other MEPs to sign on the issue, organising the presentation of the Scottish Farmer Magazine petition to the Parliament's petitions committee and organising the presentation to the Agriculture Committee, amongst other lobbying.

Speaking after the meeting, Smith said:

"This was a hugely powerful and credible presentation to the Agriculture Committee, and I'm glad that colleagues from across Europe gave the issue such a sympathetic response. Scotland is ahead of the game in recognising the implications of this scheme, but this is an EU wide obligation so we did other countries a service by encouraging them to consider what impact EID will have on their flock. With doubts on the scheme being voiced in Germany, France, Spain and Italy it is clear that the coalition to force a reworking of this scheme is growing.

"I was also proud of our delegation. They looked every inch the serious, credible and persuasive individuals they are, and the representatives from other farming unions rose to the occasion too, representing in all some 40 million sheep and the most sheep intensive areas of the EU. This presentation could not be ignored.

"I have my teeth firmly into this issue and will not let it rest until we have secured the opt out from this scheme we need. We have a number of irons in the fire in the parliament on this, but we will also be paying close attention to the Scottish governmental trials of this technology and will not be shy in highlighting the deficiencies in it as we catalogue them."

Mr Smith's speech to the Agriculture Committee is below.

"Thanks Neil, Mr President, I'd briefly add my own support to the petitioners, this was a heavyweight and very welcome contribution to our discussions on this, and I'd make a plea to colleagues that if this issue is not on your radar it should be, because it assuredly is an issue yourconstituents are concerned about and as we get closer to the current implementation date it will rise further up your agenda still.

"I'd pick up on Neil's point about the common front across the Scottish, Irish, Northern Irish, Welsh and English unions, and add as well that this is not just the industries. The Scottish government, the Welsh government, the Northern Irish government and the Irish government are all against this scheme, and the UK government is not keen on it either. Taken together the countries of the British Isles account for the clearly most sheep intensive areas of the EU, so when the governments and industry say that this scheme will not work we must take it seriously.

"I'd also welcome our friends from the European Commission, I've had a number of meetings on this and we are sensitive to your position on this, EID is an obligation the member states have signed up to and ordered you to implement, and there is not much flexibility in the Regulation. Butwhere we're sensitive to your position, please be sensitive to ours!

"We're not against the aims of the package, they're laudable enough. Our concern is that EID will not achieve them. That EID is in practice unworkable. That EID will, in fact, tip a number of farms, already struggling, over the edge and we'll see the trend in destocking turn into a flood. So the EU will end up importing meat from countries that have no ID at all! And vast chunks of the EU's food production, and rural infrastructure, could be wiped out. This is not synthetic concern, this isn't false, or fabricated, I'm gravely concerned that the people I know in Scotland who have gone from having 300 sheep, to 200, to 100 will just walk away from the industry altogether because there are easier ways to make a living.

"So I object to EID on three counts: because it is impractical, expensive and illogical. Impractical, because the technology is untested. Wales is the most advanced in their trials of the technology and their preliminary results show that under best conditions, (best conditions where the sheepare dead in abattoirs so fairly easy to manage!) the best EID manages is 90% accuracy, which is a step backwards from current best practice. Expensive, because the cost of the devices, the time to implement and use them is all borne by the farmer, at a time when the sector is on its knees and people are walking away. And illogical because there are so many exemptions in EID that utterly undermine the principle. Particularly the de minimis that says if your national flock is less than 300,000 beasts you do not need to implement the scheme at all, surely if we believe that EID is the best disease control and stock management tool for Europe, then we need it everywhere or not at all.

"So for those reasons, and others, I'm not going to let EID lie. My teeth are in this issue and I will not sit by while an unneeded, unworkable, expensive and illogical scheme is inflicted upon an industry just not able to cope with it. And the solution is actually elegantly simple. Make EIDvoluntary then if a state wants to opt in, then by all means let them.

"Colleagues will receive more information on this, we still have the Written Declaration available for signature and a massive petition is working its way through the petitions committee. This is in no way the end of this issue, because our committee cannot sit by while this happens."