I propose to take Questions Nos. 488 and 489 together.
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 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, leading to errors in the recording of information that is essential in tracing an animal back to the holding of its origin.
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 and slaughter plants operating as approved Central Points of Recording (CPRs). This 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.
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, on the basis of their proactive engagement, I anticipate that a significant number of marts will be in a position to operate as CPRs in a relatively short period.
Keepers moving sheep to approved CPRs will continue to be required to fill out a dispatch document to accompany the sheep on movement but will not be required to list the individual numbers of each sheep consigned to a specific batch. All that will be required of them in that regard is to record, in the relevant part of the dispatch document, the total number of sheep associated with that document. The CPR will scan all presented sheep and will provide the keeper (and purchaser where appropriate) with a printed list of all presented tag numbers (LPT). The serial number of the corresponding dispatch document will be printed on the LPT also to facilitate the keeper in associating this list with his/her copy of the dispatch document. It is important that this LPT is checked by the keeper for accuracy. This document and the copy of the dispatch document must be kept by the keeper for record keeping purposes.
Where it is not feasible for marts or slaughter plants to upgrade their facilities to CPR requirements, farmers can continue to move sheep to these premises by either scanning and 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 or slaughter plant 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. Indeed, I was very pleased to announce during my trade mission to China just last week that the Chinese authorities have agreed to an inspection visit on sheep meat in Ireland in August this year. I will also be travelling to Japan in June to build on the efforts made there to date in pursuing market access and increasing market opportunities in line with Food Wise 2025 and our response to Brexit.