Monday, 6 October 2008

Scotland's sheep farmers before the European Parliament

Today we brought a high level delegation across to Brussels from Scotland's NFU, the National Sheep Association and the Scottish Farmer to present their case against the Commission's plans to introduce compulsory electronic identification for sheep to the Parliament's Agriculture Committee. To be honest, it was an immensely proud moment to see and listen to our farmers outlining their concerns to the Committee this afternoon and they did a grand job of it.

I'd spent most of the week before working with the British Agricultural Bureau office in Brussels in trying to bring together the various farming delegations from Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and England who also wanted to be part of the presentation to the Agriculture Committee and show as united a common front as possible to MEPs on the Committee.

The NFU and the National Sheep Association reiterated that electronically tagging all of Scotland's seven million sheep, including the ones in hilly, mountainous areas would be completely impractical and the technology is still unproven. We understand the aims of what the Commission is trying to do regarding compulsory EID but continue to believe that they will not achieve what they are supposed to and will add more costs at a time when our sheep farmers are already hitting hard times with the credit crunch and are just not practical.

I was glad to see that there was much support among Committee members for what our delegation was telling them and certainly Neil Parish, the Committee Chair made it absolutely clear that he would be pushing very hard for the scheme to be introduced on an opt-in, voluntary basis. Also at the Committee meeting were representatives from the Commission who continued to argue that from 1 January 2011 it will be compulsory for Europe's sheep to require electronic identification and they will have their movements individually recorded.

At the moment our cross-party, cross-nationality written declaration on compulsory EID is still live and we are trying to get as many MEPs as possible to sign it. The Scottish National Sheep Association presented us with the rest of its compulsory EID petition, which was presented to the European Parliament's Petitions Committee back in July and which now totals over 8,000. It is vital that we continue to keep the pressure on the Commission and we are certainly doing everything we can to safeguard Scotland's sheep farming interests by supporting EID to be done on a voluntary/opt-in basis.

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