Farmers and crofters asked for views on tagging scheme
Farmers and crofters will be given the chance to voice concerns over electronic sheep tagging (EID) at a series of public meetings next week.
The events at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick and the Uyeasound Hall in Unst will feed public views into a Scottish Government consultation paper on the controversial scheme.
Producers will also hear plans for an EID pilot scheme, which will test how the unpopular legislation will operate in the real world.
Organised by the SIC’s environmental health department, the meetings come after last-ditch attempts by a cross-party group of MEPs to bring EID to a halt failed.
That means the legislation will be introduced in January as originally planned, forcing farmers and crofters to record each animal’s identity every time it is moved.
However, the meetings are being held to find how the unpopular regulations can best be implemented.
A key area for debate – and one favoured by the National Farmers Union (NFU) in Scotland – is a government-funded centralised database, helping farmers comply with current and future requirements through a potentially paperless system.
It is also hoped producers with breeding stock in the isles will be able to avoid electronic tagging if they can show their animals stay in the isles until slaughter.
Meanwhile the pilot project – run by the Edinburgh-based Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society – will supply tags to producers to test how the process will fare when it becomes reality.
NFU Shetland branch chairwoman Hazel Mackenzie, said she welcomed the chance farmers and crofters were being given to put their points across, but she said the union remained opposed to EID as a whole.
“We are concerned about how it is going to work, especially in the outlying islands. It’s an added burden with an added cost for absolutely no benefit whatsoever.”
The meeting in the Clickimin is due to take place on Wednesday from 7pm, while the Unst meeting will start the following night at 6pm.
The last nail in the coffin was delivered to EID opponents last month after a cross-party group of MEPs failed to gain any concessions from European health commissioner Androula Vassilou.
She had been lobbied by recently-elected MEP George Lyon, alongside Tory MEP Struan Stevenson, Nationalists Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith and Labour’s Catherine Stihler.
The breakdown in talks meant there was nothing to prevent EID from being introduced, despite many heralding it as one of the least workable pieces of legislation to affect agriculture.
Mr Lyon said the emphasis would now be on attempting to bring changes following its introduction. The meeting with Ms Vassilou had been “pretty negative in terms of trying to get further movement on the issue, which was a bit of a disappointment”. But there were several “chinks of light” which could help bring about more positive change.
Mr Lyon said the British government could return to Europe after the scheme is introduced to seek a review of the legislation which could secure further concessions.
“There is an agreement that if the UK government came back with concerns, and if it wanted to look for further concessions, other member states would be willing to look at it. The door’s not completely closed.”
Ms Vassilou was also pressed to provide funding for farmers to help them implement the scheme. However, she said the Scottish Government would be able to use SRDP funding to provide assistance.
Mr Lyon also sought to reassure producers who were concerned their single farm payments might be deducted if they struggled to fully comply with the legislation.
Producers have given voice to fears their payments could be cut if they fail to process all their stock. With many sheep farmers keeping stock scattered on hills by the thousands, some feared keeping accurate records could be almost impossible.
However, following talks with agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, Mr Lyon said producers would not face a drop in subsidies “if the database isn’t 100 per cent accurate”.