Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, and Norman Leask from the Scottish Crofters Federation, have today (Wednesday) met with officials from DG Sanco (the department of the European Commission responsible for sheep EID) to reiterate the damage that EID is doing to our sheep industry, and to push for further derogations to the current regulation.
Alyn, who has been fighting this regulation for years, and who recently commissioned a survey of Shetland's farmers to get hard data on the impact on our farming sector of the European regulations, presented these survey results to the officials and pressed home the criticisms that he has heard from across the industry about the fears over cross-compliance penalties and the reliability of the technology.
Speaking after the meeting, Alyn said:
"Today's meeting with DG Sanco was enlightening, if not as productive as I would have liked. Yet again it was reiterated that as far as the Commission is concerned, farmers should not be penalised for failures of the technology and that any penalties given should be proportionate.
"The survey results were read with interest, but with scepticism that what we are seeing in Shetland is replicable across the EU. As far as they are concerned, the destocking that is taking place in Scotland is also taking place everywhere else, and while they expressed frustration at the shape of the market right now, they refused to link it to EID or fear of associated cross-compliance penalties but instead to other problems.
"The point was also made by them that there is only one Member State vocally complaining about EID and it is the same Member State whose Prime Minister David Cameron is frequently undermining the solidarity of the EU and voicing his opposition to every piece of European legislation, whether good, bad or indifferent. I think we eventually won the battle persuading them that Scotland is a constructive partner of the European Union but it is frustrating that we were on the back foot before we started and just shows the ill will that Cameron's negotiating tactics are creating in Brussels.
"I pushed again for one key refinement to the regulation - don't tag the beast until it leaves the holding of birth. This would be a workable change to the regulation and would go a long way to winning back the goodwill of Scotland's farmers. There was no mood for talk of derogations - that was clear - but I have no intention of letting this drop. When a review comes along, which at some point it will, I want this idea front and centre."
Note: 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.