The current National Sheep Identification system (NSIS) has been in place since 2010. It is widely accepted that the system is overly complicated, relying too heavily on the manual transcription of lengthy identification numbers of sheep at various stages of production.
My Department commenced a review of the current NSIS in 2015 when my officials met with the stakeholder representative and outlined the preferred option to improve the system. I also met stakeholders in the context of developing the Sheep Welfare Scheme and sheep EID was discussed in that forum.
The new rules are being introduced requiring all sheep sold from 1 October 2018 onwards to be identified electronically. This timeframe will allow farmers a reasonable period of time to use up stocks of tags on hand. EID will provide a more robust sheep traceability system and will further support the development and sustainability of the sheep industry. This measure will significantly reduce the record keeping requirements for sheep farmers moving sheep to livestock marts, slaughter plants and export assembly centres. There is the potential of decreased cross compliance issues following the provision of a printed list to producers detailing the electronic tag numbers presented by them to marts and factories approved as Central Points of Recording (CPRs).
I will be providing a one off support measure of up to a maximum of €50 per keeper for the first purchase of EID tags. Electronic tag readers and associated software are included as eligible investments in the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) scheme to assist sheep farmers in flock management. The move to full EID and the inclusion of EID readers as an eligible investment in TAMS will make the recording of the movement of lambs off farm much more convenient and will greatly simplify the paperwork involved for sheep farmers.
This enhancement of the current sheep identification system will allow the sheep sector to further develop and build on its impressive performance supporting some 35,000 farm families directly in addition to supporting several thousand jobs indirectly in rural area.
The improved traceability system will assist in maintaining existing markets and in securing new international outlets for Irish sheep meat. Ireland has market access for sheep meat to 45 countries at present, compared to our beef access to 65 countries, and exports of dairy products to almost 180 countries. Opening new markets for sheep meat access, including potentially valuable markets such as the USA, Japan and, in due course, China is therefore a key concern, as some of these markets have identified lack of EID as a barrier to access.
The extension of EID to all sheep is a critical requirement to provide the required traceability demands across the market place, serving to protect public and animal health in line with the highest international standards.