Notifications of animal births, deaths and movements have long been the subject of criticism from farmers for a number of reasons.
Largely driven by concerns over labour and equipment costs linked to the administrative burden involved in registering notifications in the EU, the criticism is understandable. Currently, all notifications must be manually registered and are then inputted into the national computerised database.
However, labour and equipment are not the only concerns, with criticism also being fuelled by the potential implications for cross-compliance payments, which may lead to reductions of the Single Direct Payment and other Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) schemes.
The issue has clearly struck a chord across Europe, and the European Commission has published a proposal on bovine electronic identification (EID) which could pave the way for the introduction of a voluntary bovine EID system. The proposal would also allow member states to introduce mandatory bovine EID at national level.
Generally the view in the industry seems to be that, with proper consultation and proper thought being given to the practicalities, bovine EID would be a positive step. Undoubtedly, it would present less of a technical challenge than sheep EID. Both the cost and the practicality in the cattle sector make it a more attractive proposition, essentially because there are fewer movements and more valuable animals to stand the cost of the EID tags and reading equipment. EID in the sheep sector is fraught with difficulties, but in the cattle sector the challenge would be more proportionate to the benefits.
There is little doubt that the industry would prefer a voluntary system, as there is still the issue of cost-effectiveness, meaning that for some EID in cattle would not stack up financially. However, with EID on farms becoming more common place especially for those with sheep interests, there is less anxiety about the introduction of bovine EID.
We would hope and expect the UK to take the view that it would not like to push a mandatory scheme. In the beef sector, there are already a number of producers voluntarily looking at EID to improve their management. The number of farmers investing in the hardware and software to make the most of EID within their sheep enterprise is increasing. If producers are already using it for sheep, the opportunity to reduce the administration involved in cattle movements is a major incentive to consider using it on the cattle side. Ultimately, it comes down to management benefits. If producers can record more and better information, and use the information to increase the efficiency of the production process, that will drive the use of bovine EID forwards.