Sheep's ear for EU Aug03

The unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in the EU Commission have been busy inventing their very own 'weapon of mass destruction' for British agriculture, particularly sheep farmers. In order to control and manage future outbreaks of animal diseases such as BSE and Foot and Mouth, Commissioner Byrne (Environment & Public Health) wishes to ensure "traceability" of all EU sheep.


British wool financed our finest medieval churches across West Suffolk and continues to make sweaters and suits that are worn by the fashionable and the famous. Britain has 37 million of the 100 million sheep in the EU and it is the largest "sheep" country in Europe with both a domestic and export market for its lamb. Like millions of Brits, I look forward to a Sunday lunch of roast British lamb with mint sauce, but for how much longer will we be able to enjoy such a meal?


The new EU Directive will require every one of the 37 million UK sheep to have two plastic ear tags, carrying an individual 14-digit number, pinned on the sheep's ear. Every time any sheep is moved, its individual number must be checked and recorded. If the tag is lost for any one sheep, the farmer must identify and check the missing number and apply for a replacement plastic tag.


It is estimated that about 15 per cent of the sheep will lose their tags. Therefore, for 600 sheep scattered over miles of moorland, a hill farmer would have to round up his entire flock to determine which sheep have lost their tags and then record all the 14-digit numbers on the sheep that still have their tags. He will then know which of the 14-digit numbers are missing by referring to his master list. Having established this, he would have to apply for the missing numbers and pin the right tag on the right sheep as before!


Allowing three minutes for each tagging or checking of a number and with labour costs at around 12 an hour, the expense of this scheme to an average sheep farmer in the UK will be 13,000 to 16,000 a year! There are about 67 million sheep movements a year, therefore, writing down all these 14-digit numbers will take 3.35 million hours, costing around 40m! The cost of replacing tags is estimated at 14m and the on-farm cost of record-keeping is estimated to be at 8m. Considering that an average UK sheep farmer earns around 12,000, how can such a scheme be implemented and how can it be afforded by farmers who are already suffering from substantial loss of income from the recent loss of farm animals?


Do EU Commission bureaucrats ever consult farmers directly, visit farms and markets before sub-contracting consultants to draft such ridiculous and unenforceable proposals?


EU legislation, which impacts on all of us, should be in the hands of elected Members of the European Parliament. The EU Member States must strip the EU Commission of its power to initiate legislation by restricting its function to that of a civil service. I am urging the Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) that will decide on the new treaty for the EU in October, to incorporate such a change.