Farmers and crofters will not face penalties as a result of breakdowns of electronic sheep tagging equipment, according to parliamentary answers to isles MSP Tavish Scott.
Mr Scott had asked rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead what would happen to those working with sheep “given that pilots of the electronic identification … are reportedly demonstrating that it will not result in 100 per cent accurate information”.
Mr Lochhead replied: “The penalty regime which applies to farmers and crofters covering breaches of sheep identification and traceability is unchanged. Payment reductions will not be applied under cross compliance where discrepancies are purely as a result of any known technical limitations, including electronic identification equipment.”
However, Mr Scott criticised Mr Lochhead for failing to back the European Parliament agriculture committee’s call for an amnesty on penalties. He said that when he asked whether the Scottish government would seek the agreement of the European Commission for a three-year amnesty, the minister gave no such undertaking, merely stating that he sought a more proportionate approach.
Mr Scott said: “I welcome the news that farmers and crofters struggling with equipment which has still to be proved reliable will not be penalised for mistakes the equipment causes. But officials operating the scheme must comply with the spirit of that answer.
“I am pleased too that the minister says that he intends to keep pushing for a more proportionate penalty regime. But I am disappointed that he won’t come out in full support of the European Parliament agriculture committee’s three-year amnesty proposal.
“The minister’s department is pursuing the penalty regime on crofters very hard indeed. I’ve had a number of Shetland producers raise with me the aggressive approach being taken by the department. So Mr Lochhead’s warm words need to translate into a complete change of approach and attitude by his department.”