EID tagging: New markets are a ‘pie in the sky suggestion’

The promised benefit of new markets opening up to Irish lamb due to the introduction of electronic identification (EID) tagging has been dismissed by Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Sheep Committee chairman John Brooks.

Speaking to host Claire McCormack on the latest episode of FarmLand, Brooks said that such markets are “pie in the sky”, adding that it is just another expense for Irish sheep farmers.

“All of these markets that are being talked about, they are all ‘pie in the sky’; they are thousands and thousands of miles away.

These markets are already buying lamb from countries or regions of the world where there is no traceability, no quality assurance, no Origin Green, no nothing – so it doesn’t make sense.

“It’s unbelievable for that suggestion to come out that, all of a sudden, because there is EID on a lamb before he is slaughtered that it is going to open up markets everywhere else for us.

“I don’t believe it and neither do the 34,000 sheep farmers of Ireland believe it,” he asserted.

When quizzed on why the Department of Agriculture wishes to extend mandatory EID tagging to all sheep, Brooks gave his view.

‘It will only benefit factories’

“It’s very difficult to say but we assume it must be pressure from the meat industry because if you look at this new proposal the only ones that will benefit from it are the meat plants.

There is no benefit in it for farmers; it is a cost for farmers. The ICSA has done the maths on it and if you go back over the last number of years the average margin on a low land lamb using Teagasc figures is €14.

So, if we have to spend an extra €1 per lamb on a tag that is going to the meat plant, it’s the equivalent of taking 7% of my income and all sheep farmers’ income.

There is absolutely no need for this, the ICSA chairman added.

“As late as last week, ICSA met with the commission responsible for this sheep electronic tagging identification and it outlined to us that as late as 2015, when this topic was discussed, that it was 100% behind the current derogation that is there.

“So, there is absolutely no pressure from the EU to make any changes to our system – as far as they are concerned, the system we have is miles better, there is no other system anywhere else in the world that comes near it so.”

Hassle

Brooks said that farmers are very angry about the situation, adding that it’s causing a lot of hassle.

“We’re a very low-income sector; it’s a sector that maybe only works on certain types of land. The figures we’ve done are on low land sheep – if it was applied to highland sheep the margin would be much greater of a loss.”

Brooks welcomed the department’s revisions on the original announcement pushing the implementation back to June instead of October, which he said “would have been absolutely crazy in the middle of a fattening system”.

However, he said farmers around the country think of the €100 once-off payment offered by the department as an insult.

“It’s like getting 100 pieces of silver to buy your soul. It’s of no benefit to anybody, this €100. Farmers are very angry about it and we would hope the department will still listen and listen to the commission.

Robust system

“There is no need for this, our system is very robust, it’s the most robust system in the world.

Our lamb, as the commission outlined, has the best traceability system in the world.

Asked about potential advantages to EID tagging, Brooks replied: “There are advantages to it – but the cost of it is the big problem; the margins just aren’t there in sheep farming to absorb this cost.”

The chairman noted that the marts around the country are also very annoyed over the issue, and will have to put in readers for scanning tags.

He expressed concerns that it might encourage marts to cease sheep trade, hitting communities and reducing competition for lamb.

The short-term commitment, like what the minister has announced €100, that’s 100 tags – or whatever it is. That’s insignificant, it’s the long-term implications of this going forward.

“It’s the long-term negativity on my income and the income of all sheep farmers across the country that is the big issue,” Brooks concluded.