It is critical that Ireland as a major trading country has a robust identification and traceability system to ensure are our products have a viable future in the international marketplace. A robust traceability system will support our continued efforts to gain new export markets for Irish sheep meat.
As the Deputy will be aware, the introduction of mandatory EID is required as the current national sheep identification system is widely acknowledged to be very complex, with an over reliance on the manual transcription of individual sheep identification numbers. The extension of electronic identification will simplify the sheep tagging system by significantly reducing the record keeping requirements for sheep farmers moving sheep to livestock marts, slaughter plants and export assembly centres and will provide a more accurate and robust sheep traceability system in support of animal health and public health objectives and thus support the further development and sustainability of the sheep industry.
In acknowledgement of the additional costs imposed on farmers in the purchase of electronic tags, I introduced a one-off tag subsidy for farmers, subsidising by €1 the cost of each electronic tag purchased in the first tag order completed between 1st October 2018 and 30 September 2019 (up to a maximum of €100 per farmer). The first tranche of the four payments in this regard was made at end-January in respect of eligible tag orders completed between 1st October and 31 December 2018, where €375,000 was paid to 5,500 farmers while €314,605 was paid to 4,359 farmers earlier this month.
The provision of Central Points of Recording (CPRs) at marts and slaughter plants will make a very significant contribution to increasing the robustness of the National Sheep Identification System. My officials are working very closely with marts and slaughter plants to ensure that as many of these premises as possible will operate as CPRs with effect from 1st June. It is my understanding that the major sheep processing slaughter plants are making significant progress in this regard. Marts are similarly well disposed to operating as CPRs and are proactively engaging with the CPR process with a view to having facilities in place at the earliest opportunity. I accept that the upgrading of mart facilities to CPR standards will be an incremental process and I expect that a significant number of marts will be in a position to operate as CPRs in a relatively short period.
Where it is not feasible for marts to upgrade their facilities to CPR requirements, farmers can continue to move sheep to these premises by either printing out the tag numbers of the sheep to be moved for attachment to the relevant dispatch document or by continuing to record the individual number of each sheep presented to a non-CPR mart on the dispatch document.
The extension of EID to all sheep will further enhance traceability across the sheep sector and will assist in the Government's efforts to maintain and expand the export markets for Irish sheep meat. I will be visiting China later this month and Japan in June to build on the efforts made to date in pursuing market access and increasing market opportunities in line with Food Wise 2025 and our response to Brexit.