Thursday, 17 July 2008

Scotland's sheep farmers come to Brussels

Yesterday we brought a delegation across to Brussels from Scotland’s NFU, the National Sheep Association and the Scottish Farmer to present a petition to the Parliament’s powerful Petitions Committee. The petition calls on the European Commission to scrap plans to individually identify sheep and their movements, that any future sheep ID and movement recording system must be on a batch basis and to review the cost effectiveness of electronic ID prior to its planned implementation at the end of 2009. The petition has already collected 7000 signatures from Scotland’s sheep farmers.

We had also organised for the delegation to meet directly with the cabinet of the European Health Commissioner Androula Vassiliou who is responsible for the Commission’s proposals for the tagging electronically of individual sheep together with officials from the Commission’s Health Department (DG Sanco), as well as with the other Scottish MEPs and some of the MEPs from the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee. I was also pleased when the delegation had the chance to meet with the French Agriculture Minister, Michel Barnier, who made it clear that the future of Europe’s sheep industry was a clear priority for the French EU Presidency.

At the Petitions Committee there was much support for the issues raised by Scotland’s sheep farmers in the petition by other MEPs, and in particular the French, the Irish and the Polish Chairman of the Committee. Certainly the petition was well received with the realisation that this wasn’t purely a Scottish issue but was a European one which will impact on sheep farmers across Europe. Later on I spoke with the clerk of the Petitions Committee who said that given the level of support shown towards the petition and how well it had been received that this would now be raised with the chair of the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, which is set to discuss the Commission’s proposals on electronic sheep tagging at its meeting in October.

Once again, here we find another issue that had been agreed to by the London government and which our farmers in Scotland now find themselves in difficulty with. This is why we need our own independent voice in Brussels and why we need to be sitting at the big table ourselves standing up for our own distinct interests and not having to rely on London.

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