EID tagging: ‘The primary producer can’t be expected to carry the cost’

The primary producer can’t be expected to carry the entire cost of the mandatory extension of electronic identification (EID) tagging to all sheep, according to Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill.

Deputy Cahill made the comments as the EID tagging of sheep was discussed at length by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday evening (Tuesday, June 20).

Earlier this year, it was announced that all sheep sold from October 1, 2018, onward will have to be identified electronically. However, this decision has come in for significant criticism from various farm organisations in recent weeks.

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, deputy Cahill admitted that the benefits of EID tagging can’t be argued with – but he stated that levelling farmers with the additional costs is unfair.

“We’re talking about a very low income sector here. You’re talking about an imposition of a significant cost on farmers.

If you take store lambs coming off the hills, varying in price from €35/head to €50/head, the cost of this is a significant part of that sale price – a very significant part of it.

“That is probably the lowest income sector that we have in the whole industry – hill sheep farmers. You’re talking about 3% to 4% of the value of the animal being put on the cost of this tag.

“If this was on the beef side, you would be talking about €20/tag for a calf – that’s the comparison that you are talking about. That’s the context you have to put it in. There are benefits from this, but the primary producer can’t be expected to carry the cost of it.

“To impose this extra cost on the primary producer just isn’t practical or isn’t sustainable,” the Fianna Fail TD said.

Given the expected underspend in the Sheep Welfare Scheme, deputy Cahill indicated that the funds should be used to override the costs associated with the mandatory extension of EID tagging to all sheep later this year.

Cost

During the committee meeting, Martin Blake – chief veterinary officer with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine – explained that calculations regarding the costs associated with EID tagging have been carried out.

Blake stated that EID tags are in the region of 75c dearer than conventional tags.

Under the current pricing system, he estimated that the mandatory extension of EID tagging will result in additional costs of between €75 and €78, with regards to a lowland flock comprising of about 100 ewes.

Representatives from the department and Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said that both marts and slaughter plants will also have to invest in additional technology and infrastructure in order to accommodate the switch towards EID tagging.

‘The right thing to do’

Moving entirely towards EID tagging is the right thing to do, according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

Speaking in the second half of the meeting, he said: “There is a cost; I have never hidden from the fact that there is a cost. But I don’t think that it is weighed in on the other side of the balance sheet that there is also a labour-saving device here.

Apart from being much more effective – in terms of traceability – the labour requirement on farms with EID is far, far less than it would be under the current regime.

“I mean, transposing 13-digit numbers on to dispatch documents is not conducive to accuracy,” he said.