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Cattle Identification Scheme.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 11 March 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ceisteanna (3)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

3 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has made submissions to the European Commission opposing the proposed electronic tagging of cows; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12146/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The European Commission has made no proposal on electronic identification of cattle at this stage. My Department is represented on a working group set up by the European Commission to discuss developments on bovine identification. I understand that plans are being formulated for the introduction in 2011 of a regulation for the implementation of an electronic identification system for bovines on a voluntary basis.

In 2009, the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers published a study on the introduction of electronic identification to identify bovine animals within the European Union. The report was prepared by consultants on behalf of the European Commission. A consultant visited Ireland, met officials from my Department and had discussions with the farm organisations as part of the consultation process in drafting the report.

The report established that electronic identification has the potential to reduce reading time, errors and administrative burden. At farm level, the use of electronic identification has definite advantages for management purposes where automated systems are used to record and utilise production records such as milk yield, feed consumption, fertility and weight gain. Benefits of electronic identification accrue for official controls in reduced labour costs, due to automatic reading.

I cannot believe what I am hearing.

The benefits of an electronic identification system are significant when additional readings are required associated with the requirements of an eradication programme.

The introduction of an electronic identification system would lead to higher costs for identifiers and reading equipment. The report highlighted that the direct costs and benefits are not balanced all along the production chain. Costs are incurred by the keepers in the holding of birth while most of the benefits of an electronic identification system accrue to the stakeholders in downstream activities such as livestock marts and slaughter plants. Thus, the unbalanced distribution of costs and benefits may be considered as an obstacle to the compulsory introduction of electronic identification technology in the bovine sector.

I assure the Deputy that this Department will continue to be represented at the working group on bovine identification and we will participate fully in discussions on any proposals that may emerge to ensure that account is taken of Ireland's interests.

I despair when hearing the Minister of State eulogising the benefits of electronic tagging, given what we have witnessed already in respect of sheep tagging which is in danger of imploding an existing scheme. The Minister of State referred to the advantages such as increased efficiency. He fails to acknowledge that, in the case of sheep tagging, the Commission said that the error rate was in the region of 15%. This issue needs to be dealt with now and it needs to be taken off the agenda. We have a traceability system for beef and it was shown to work any time it was challenged and we do not need to satisfy some consultants' exercise an electronic identification system for cattle. The case of the sheep sector showed another instance of a Minister who went to Brussels and came home and said he lost. We need to have no truck with this issue of electronic tagging for bovines. The point was made in the context of the electronic tagging of sheep that the equivalent comparative cost for bovines would be in the region of €30 per head. The Minister of State should not participate. I ask him to advise the Commission that we will not co-operate on electronic tagging for bovines.

Deputy Creed is quite incorrect in saying I was eulogising the benefits of the scheme; in fact I gave a balanced account of the costs——

He is entertaining it.

——alongside the benefits and the drawbacks. It is well to bear in mind that whatever proposal may come from the Commission, it will, because of the new arrangements, have to be considered by the Council but also by the Parliament. One of the points emerging is the increasing number of people in this country who are seeking to be approved and some are already approved on a pilot basis for electronic identification of this nature. One of the difficulties with sheep tagging is that individual countries did it their own way and ultimately there was not a harmonised system. At a minimum, it would be to the benefit of people in Ireland, who already want and have been seeking permission to use the system, to have a harmonised system.

I ask the Minister of State to comment on a quotation attributed to a senior official in DG SANCO, which said that the Government did not object — this was carried in the Irish Farmers’ Journal recently. It seems the Government did not lodge any objection to the electronic sheep tagging system. Is it a fait accompli that it is now Government policy to go ahead? Is it now Government policy, in view of the fact that it did not object to electronic tagging for sheep and in view of the Minister of State’s remarks on the benefits of electronic tagging for cattle, to go along headlong in support of an EU proposal on electronic tagging for bovines?

It is not correct to suggest Ireland did not oppose the electronic tagging of sheep. The Minister did it on a number of occasions at Council meetings and I did it on one occasion myself at the Council meeting in Brussels and on another occasion in Luxembourg.

Did the Minister do it in this House?

In the case of sheep tagging, a difficulty that has arisen, and that will undoubtedly arise in this instance, is that there are not harmonised processes, there are several systems in operation. A country like Ireland, that is ultimately required to export in excess of 80% of its product, has the potential to lose out badly if the system that is in operation here, albeit voluntarily and for a small number of people, is not harmonised with the system being used in the rest of Europe. That is the minimum we should ensure for those who want to participate.

There is no market complaining about our traceability.

The Commission has not introduced any proposal and the report of the consultancy is balanced, setting out the drawbacks and costs alongside the potential benefits. It is clear to me that the Commission will not be bringing forward a proposal for compulsory tagging anyway.

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