NI herds to go paperless by May – but union wants a consultation

Union officials say the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture’s plans for herd birth and movement registrations to go paperless by May are “too ambitious”.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) recently met with DAERA to discuss the department’s proposals for the phased withdrawal of paper registration and movement documents for livestock and says a consultation should be held first.

Resource pressures

UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt said: “It is important that DAERA provides a comprehensive service to assist farmers with meeting their legislative requirements for the traceability of livestock.

“While the UFU understands the resource pressures the department is facing and its wish for farmers to use more online and telephone services, we do not accept DAERA’s proposals to remove the service for accepting paper registration and movement documents for livestock.”

Almost 30% of cattle registrations are currently completed on paper – approximately 160,000 birth notifications a year.

‘Too ambitious’

“While we are supportive of the promotion and development of online services, DAERA’s target to move all farmers who use paper registrations onto online or telephony services by May 2018 is far too ambitious and does not take into account any of the practical or equality considerations this would involve,” Chesnutt added.

“There are difficulties in rural areas with access to broadband. Furthermore, there is an ageing population of farmers in Northern Ireland, many of whom are not computer literate.

“If farmers are not computer literate, paper is an option they are confident with and this is very important given the serious risks that surround inaccurate traceability information with livestock.

“We are calling on DAERA for a formal consultation and equality impact assessment on this matter, before this proposal – which is not fair or proportionate – goes any further.”