Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, has hailed the Committee for backing his amendment today allowing for important derogations to the sheep EID laws.
The amendment, which was backed by the Shetland crofters and the National Sheep Association, passed through the committee stage of the Animal Health Law by 28 votes to 12: it allows sheep farmers the option of only tagging their sheep once with a manual tag, and with a holding number instead of an individual identification number, until the sheep leaves the holding of birth, at which point the normal rules (double tagging with an electronic tag and an individual ID number) will apply. It is essentially the same derogation as the one currently existing for lambs going straight to slaughter within 12 months.
The reforms to the sheep EID regime are designed to mitigate the effects of the uncertain state of technology by increasing read rates (Scot EID estimate that read rates decline by 3% every 600 days); focusing inspection resources on sheep movements where the risk of disease spreading is greatest; improve animal welfare outcomes by reducing the chances of ear damage from tags; and reducing costs for farmers, while also reducing the potential for unfair and disproportionate cross compliance penalty reductions. The amending process works in parallel to a scientific study commissioned by the Scottish Government and put together by the EPIC centre on animal disease outbreaks on the implications of this derogation.
Alyn also successfully passed amendments which would ensure that new proposals on animal identification, such as any future decision to make cattle EID mandatory, will have to be made through full legislation, with full participation of the European Parliament, rather than through the murky and unaccountable procedure of delegated acts.
The animal health law will now be voted on by the full session of the Parliament next month, followed by negotiations with Council and Commission.
"While it's important not to get too carried away, as this is just one stage in the legislative process, I think this is a very important moment in the battle to make sheep EID workable on the ground: it shows that there is considerable political will in the European Parliament to re-open the discussions on the sheep EID laws, and that the Commission have to deal with this, and the problems that farmers are finding in implementing the rules.
"Throughout my travels in Scotland sheep farmers have emphasised to me again and again that this particular derogation would do the most use for them. They understand the need for traceability and disease control, but control efforts must be focused on the times of greatest risks - when the animals move. The added value of this technology only exists to a much lesser extent when the animal is still on the farm at birth. As well as reducing unnecessary burdens on farmers, we can rationalise and prioritise our public inspection resources as well.
"As one of Scotland's representatives in Brussels, I'm determined to show that the political system can respond to the clear needs of one of our important sectors. Today is the first step in that process."
Hilary Liebeschuetz, Animal Health Schemes Officer, Shetland Island Council, said:
"This is a very encouraging piece of news for Scottish sheep producers. The European Parliament's Agricultural Committee has passed this amendment, demonstrating that they have recognised the need for changes in the EID regulation.
"After years of working to raise awareness of the negative impacts of the regulation, this is most welcome, and I wish Alyn and his team every success as they take this amendment forward through the votes and negotiations ahead."