Opinion

Do farmers need identity cards? ….I don’t think so

I was intrigued by an article published in the Irish Independent a few days ago, claiming that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) may make the ownership of a new identity card mandatory before farmers can draw their ‘EU cheques’ in the future.

Put aside for one second the fact that farmers no longer receive cheques from the department – all financial contributions are electronically transferred into bank accounts – the author of the piece is obviously unaware of the fact that Irish agriculture is one of the most regulated industries on the planet.

In the first instance, each bovine animal born in Ireland is individually ear-tagged, registered and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) tested within days of birth. 

All of this information is uploaded onto a central computer, as are the results of annual TB tests. The reality is that the Irish government knows more about the health of all the cattle in the country than they do about individual humans.

Superimposed on all of this is the rigorous inspection of animals at meat plants. This is part of the food traceability system, of which Ireland can be rightly proud. And of course adding to this layer of necessary bureaucracy are the comprehensive testing procedures, put in place to ensure that the quality of the food emanating from Irish farms meets – and indeed surpasses – all international criteria.

Meanwhile, back in the countryside, Irish farmers are regularly ‘making tea’ for the myriad inspectors that come on to their places of business on a regular basis.  

Cross compliance and farm quality assurance inspections are a regular occurrence. Add in health and safety inspections, plus the cold calling carried out by representatives from one government agency or another, and it’s hard not to conclude that farmers live their lives in a goldfish bowl.

For their part, the public at large also take great interest in what’s happening down on the farm. I think I am right in suggesting that most complaints received by the department come from members of the public, who think they have seen something untoward in a field while driving by in their cars.

And, of course, in the vast majority of cases a very simple and innocent explanation clears the whole scenario up in double-quick time. It’s amazing how often a cow lying flat out on a hot day is mistaken as one that has expired.

I mentioned the banks at the top of this article. These are the same organisations that put farmers and all other account holders through the ringer every time an overdraft, loan or any other related issue is brought up in conversation.

And the hoops that people have to go through today, just to set up a new account, are incredible. Proof of identity is just the tip of the iceberg, where these matters are concerned.

But let’s get back to the basic question: do farmers need an identity card in order to liaise with the department? In my opinion, this should not be the case. But, at the end of the day, this is a matter of individual choice.

Personally, I am in favour of national identity cards, provided they can double up as a passport, driver’s licence, health card and every other form of identification required to make life bearable.

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