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Q&A On EU Electronic Tagging Of Sheep And Goats

Questions and Answers on Electronic Tagging of Sheep and Goats

What are the current EU rules with regard to the identification of sheep and goats?

Following the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks, EU rules on the identification of sheep and goats were reinforced. Under Regulation (EC) 21/2004 small ruminants get an individual ID-number and must carry double identification before they reach six months of age. This can be 2 ear-tags or an ear-tag and an electronic identifier. Each holding must maintain an up-to-date register of its animals, and a central register is kept at national level. A traceability document is also required for each time a group of animals is moved.

Why is the Commission proposing the compulsory introduction of electronic tagging for sheep and goats?

Member States agreed that individual traceability of sheep and goats was a necessary step to ensure animal health and food safety. However, when Regulation (EC) 21/2004 was being drawn up, electronic identification was not yet sufficiently developed to be introduced throughout the EU. It was therefore agreed that research into and development of individual electronic tagging should proceed, with a view to it being introduced as soon as possible. The Regulation states that, once progress has been made in developing the technology, the Commission should produce a report and proposal to fix a date for the mandatory introduction of electronic tagging. Following positive results from a number of pilot projects in the Member States, and research carried out by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Commission is now in a position to put forward this report and proposal.

What does electronic tagging entail?

Unique identifier codes are carried by the animal either on an ear-tag or on a bolus in the digestive tract. The identification number can then be read using either a portable or fixed electronic reader.

What are the benefits of electronic tagging?

Electronic tagging allows individual animal codes to be read directly into data processing systems. It is less error-prone and much faster than manual data recording. The sheep industry in particular, requires big groups of animals to be read in a very short time space (e.g. at markets). Electronic tagging is therefore an essential tool for automatic reading and recording of movements. This means that in the case of an animal disease outbreak, full traceability back to the individual animal can be assured and quicker, more effective action can be taken to eradicate or prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

What will the costs of electronic tagging be?

Electronic identifiers cost around 1-2€ per animal, hand-held readers are available from around 200€ and static readers from around 1000€. Farmers and operators will be responsible for the costs of meeting the requirement to electronically identify every sheep and goat. However, these costs should be offset by better disease control measures resulting from more effective identification.

Why is it only being introduced for sheep and goats, and not for cattle?

Strict rules to ensure the individual traceability of bovine animals were already laid down in 1997 (Regulation (EC) 1760/2000), linked to protection measures against BSE. The current rules on bovine identification do not exclude the use of electronic identification. In some Member States electronic identifiers for cattle are in use on a voluntarily basis to facilitate the reading of individual numbers.

Will there be any exemptions from compulsory electronic tagging?

Member States with a sheep population of less than 600 000 or less than 160 000 goats will not have to electronically tag them as long as the animals do not enter intra-Community trade. In addition, for animals intended for slaughter before the age of 12 months and intended for sale on the national market only, a batch identification system may be maintained.

When will this type of identification become compulsory?

The Commission and Member States will begin discussions on the best date for the introduction of electronic identification in the coming weeks. The aim is to set a specific date for the requirement of mandatory electronic tagging to enter into force, which the Commission report proposes should be in late 2009. This would allow sufficient time for farmers, handlers, market authorities and other animal operators to adjust to the new requirement and install the necessary equipment.

Have any Member States already used electronic tagging?

A number of Member States already use electronic tagging in parts of their territories, as part of particular disease control measures (e.g. Brucellosis, Scrapie). In addition, several Member States have carried out very successful pilot projects with electronic tagging, to test its use and effectiveness.

In Regulation 21/2004 on the identification of sheep and goats, it says that electronic tagging should be introduced by January 2008. Why has it been delayed?

When the Regulation was being drawn up, it was foreseen that the Commission would produce its report on electronic tagging by mid-2006, and that individual traceability would be introduced in January 2008. However, in order for the Commission to produce a meaningful report and for electronic tagging to be introduced in a successful and effective way, research into and development of electronic tagging systems had to be completed. In order to have a strong science based position in its legislative proposal, the Commission wants to consider the results from the largest possible number of Member States.

The report of the Commisison was delayed as research and pilot projects relevant to its content took longer than foreseen and Member States could only be presented with meaningful results at the beginning of 2007.

The deadline of 1 January 2008 for the compulsory introduction of electronic tagging would leave farmers and operators with too little time to make the necessary arrangements and adjustments (train staff, set up the reading structures etc) and could result in partial and/or poor implementation of this requirement.

The Commission is therefore proposing that thorough discussions begin immediately with Member States with a view to fixing a date in 2008 for the introduction of electronic tagging by the end of 2009, should this prove possible.


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