The EU has called for every one of Britain’s 30 million sheep to wear a hi-tech tag to ‘monitor their movements’

As of January 1st 2010, farmers could have to pay up to £1.50 per tag for each of their sheep, as well as £5,000 for an electronic tag reader. 92% of these costs will fall to the farmers themselves to pay; the overall cost is set to be in the region of £65 million.

The justification for these electronic ID (EID) tags is to aid the containment of disease such as the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic, according to European commissioners.

The rule has been referred to as ‘crazy’ by John Mercer, livestock advisor to the National Farmer’s Union (NFU), who says that it could ‘potentially devastate the sheep industry.’

There are concerns from farmers that the tags will be ineffective and unworkable, particularly when flocks are several thousand strong and in extreme environments, such as on hill farms.

This move from the EU mirrors that which was implemented in mainland Europe in 2003, when the regulation to tag every sheep was introduced, at a cost of £109 million. This was due to start on January 1st 2008, but was set back two years after strong objections from farmers.

Farmers Union of Wales’ hill farming committee chairman Derek Morgan said ‘the industry must brace itself and start planning on the assumption that it (the legislation) will come in next year, because the majority of member states are hell-bent on ignoring the evidence.’

There is still a chance to change the legislation before it becomes law here and farmers are lobbying for the scheme to be made voluntary before is introduced. The UK is home to Europe’s largest sheep flock, but farming organisations in Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden have backed Britain’s protests.

For more information on this and other farming issues, see the National Farmer’s Union’s website www.nfuonline.com

For more on British Sheep go to www.nationalsheep.org.uk

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