Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, and long-time campaigner on sheep EID, has expressed bitter disappointment at the Parliament's decision to throw out his committee amendment providing much-needed relief for sheep farmers from the full effects of the law.
The amendment was submitted by Alyn in close consultation with the Shetland crofters, was passed with an overwhelming majority in the committee, but was rejected by 265 votes to 360 in full plenary (the Paulsen Report on the Animal Health Law).
"I am frustrated and disappointed beyond words. After a very encouraging and resounding vote in committee, an unholy alliance of MEPs from the two biggest groups, the European People's Party and the Socialists, have conspired to throw out this amendment without ever explaining or justifying themselves to me or in public.
"The "disease threat" excuse has always been a canard: the risk when animals are still on their holding of birth is minimal, and there would have been no changes in the rules for movements. I'm a firm believer that we can use the legislative process to fix obvious flaws in the rules, so it's galling to see this opportunity slip by.
"I am determined to continue exploring avenues by which we can push this amendment. The Council is the other half of the co-decision legislative process, and they have not finalised their position, so there may be some scope to influence proceedings there.
"I would like to thank the Shetland crofters for their very valuable support in helping push this amendment as far as we could."
The amendment would have allowed the Scottish authorities to establish a derogation from the need to double-tag sheep with an electronic tag and an individual ID number until the animal left the holding of birth: instead, a single manual tag with a holding ID number would have sufficed.
The amendment was submitted to deal with the manifold difficulties experienced by sheep farmers in the implementation of EID, such as failings in the technology leading to less-than-100% read rates and subsequent cross compliance penalties, animal welfare problems caused by the electronic tags, and the extra costs and effort needed to make sure all sheep are electronically tagged at all times on-farm, without undermining disease control or traceability, as normal EID rules would apply once the animal are moved.
A survey of sheep farmers in Shetland showed that 91% of farmers had sheep which had lost tags; 87% had sheep with damaged ears; 89% had additional costs, and about 60% had seriously considered leaving sheep farming due to the EID requirements. The derogation would allow inspection resources to be focused on the riskier phases, such as animal movements, while reducing the time the technology was "in the field", thus improving read rates and reducing ear damage.