Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 20 March, 2002
Written Answers. - Sheep Identification System.
Mr. Crawford Mr. Crawford
250. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if his attention has been drawn to views expressed by sheep farmers, their representatives and other independent experts in the sheep industry that the sheep tagging and registration system imposed on the sector in June 2001 is extremely complex and difficult to operate at farm level and may undermine traceability in the sector; if he will examine and implement changes to the sheep identification system, particularly the complex registration and reconciliation system, which would simplify and make the system easier to operate at farm level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9148/02]
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): With the introduction of the national sheep identification system, NSIS, on 21 June 2001, Ireland has for the first time full traceability for all sheep on an individual basis. Since that date every sheep which moves from a holding within the State or which is imported into the State and every sheep carcass processed in any of our processing plants is now fully and individually identified. All sheep remaining on holdings are required to be individually tagged. I attach great importance to this development which is of significant benefit to the sheep sector, most notably in terms of disease control, marketing and in the implementation of the relevant recommendations of the sheepmeat forum.
Having regard to the various requirements which it has been designed to address, I believe that the NSIS system is simple to understand and operate. It avails of opportunities offered by modern technology and is also cost efficient from the perspectives of flock owners, processors, tag suppliers, the Department and purchasers of Irish sheepmeat.
I accept that it does impose a measure of additional work on flock owners and others, but this will be the case with any worthwhile system of identification and traceability. It is also the case that a high degree of precision is necessary, particularly at points in the trading of sheep where traceability might otherwise be problematic. Also, the successful implementation of our policy for the eradication of scrapie from the national flock will, in so far as its flock depopulation component is concerned, involve trace-back of animals and will thereby be reliant to a  significant degree on the tagging and record keeping aspects of NSIS.
I regard the extra effort on the part of flock owners in tagging and record keeping as an investment in the future of the sector and in its capacity to meet the requirements of markets and ever more discerning consumers. It should also be recognised that individual identification provides the flock owner with a valuable management tool, a fact which has been publicly recognised by a number of flock owners since NSIS became operational.
My Department is monitoring the implementation of NSIS on an ongoing basis. Certain aspects of the system, for example, the approved status of tag suppliers, will be routinely reviewed over the coming weeks and any significant issues will be addressed should they arise. I do not accept that the registration and reconciliation elements of the system are unduly complex or that they pose any more difficulty for flock owners than many other items of documentation, both farming and otherwise. To assist farmers with the completion of the flock register and to deal with other queries, my Department, in conjunction with Teagasc, recently hosted more than 75 information meetings nationwide and has operated a telephone helpline to provide advice to individual farmers.
I am advised that, in general, flock registers are being completed satisfactorily and, with experience and the passage of time, I believe that the overwhelming majority of flock owners will be comfortable in keeping the document accurate and updated . It must be remembered that the ultimate beneficiaries of an identification and traceability system which works well and stands up to scrutiny from any quarter are sheep farmers themselves and I believe that this is recognised by most flock owners.
Dáil Éireann 550 Written Answers. Sheep Identification System.