The Farmers’ Union of Wales revealed today it is preparing a case for the European Ombudsman to investigate the EC’s handling of the introduction of compulsory electronic identification (EID) of sheep.

Chairman of the FUW’s hill farming committee, Llangurig sheep farmer Derek Morgan, told the Assembly’s rural development sub-committee of the union’s intentions to contact the Ombudsman during a meeting at Lampeter University.

"I made it perfectly clear to the sub-committee that the union is leaving no stone unturned regarding this ridiculous regulation, and that we believe there are sufficient grounds for the EU Ombudsman to investigate the fact that we will next year be forced to use a technology that has been shown to have major flaws.

"I have first hand experience of EID, having used it on a small proportion of my Welsh Mountain sheep for the past six years, and found that the technology is not sufficiently developed to be practical for the average Welsh flock. This has also been the experience of the vast majority of farmers and slaughterhouses taking part in the latest trials.

"Even when dealing with a small number of sheep that are electronically identified, we are forced to manually record information on paper due to reliability issues with the technology. It's all very well using it to record and monitor a small specialist flock, but scaling its use up for every sheep in the country is madness."

In a written submission to the sub-committee’s EID inquiry, the FUW emphasised the particular problems the regulation would bring for Welsh farmers, highlighting the fact that 80% of Wales comprises Less Favoured land, and that Welsh farms are therefore dependent upon moving animals from the mountains into the lowlands for wintering.

"The impracticality of recording such movements individually on paper means that Welsh farmers are likely to have to invest more heavily in the technology than those in other countries.

"Wales’ largely Less Favoured status also means that Welsh farms are particularly reliant on livestock markets in terms of selling animals to finishers from the lowlands, and the cost of implementing the regulation in markets is likely to either be passed on to farmers, or result in market closures.

"The FUW maintains that the current system of recording and reporting sheep movements represents a more than adequate method of sheep traceability for the purposes of disease control.

"Moreover, the experiences of industry and government during the 2007 Foot and Mouth disease outbreak clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of existing controls in terms of limiting the spread of a virulent animal disease, and problems encountered by the authorities were not related to the absence of a system of recording individual sheep movements.

"The FUW believes that it is unacceptable that the EU intends to impose the costs and impracticalities of EID on farmers within some Member States, while not requiring Third Countries, against which we compete to comply with similar systems of traceability.

"In conclusion, the FUW believes that there is overwhelming evidence to support the withdrawal of the current regulation regarding sheep EID, and that the Ombudsman must investigate this matter thoroughly."