Cattle farmers across the UK spend £6 million a year buying almost 1.4 million replacement ear tags so the collective effort they make not to break ID regulations which require primary plastic flag tags and secondary button tags to be in place at all times cannot be in doubt.
So says the National Beef Association which is worried that the Crown Office in Scotland may still launch an appeal against a verdict delivered by Peterhead Sherriff’s Court on November 12th which found in favour of a finisher who was prosecuted after some cattle loaded on his farm with two tags arrived at the abattoir with only one.
“The NBA said immediately after the case that commonsense must prevail when farmers are charged with cattle ID offences because it is obvious that tags fall out easily - and it would be disappointed if the Peterhead procurator fiscal initiated an appeal in an effort to avoid a legal precedent being set when it is abundantly clear that for farmers regular, inconvenient, and costly tag loss is an unfortunate fact of life,” said NBA director, Kim Haywood.
Official statistics released in October by Defra under Freedom of Information rules after two years of pressure from the Aberdeen Press and Journal confirm the effort the industry makes to fall in with regulation even though actual ear tag retention rates fall far short of expectations.
The figures show that during 2007 some 1.346 million tags were lost on a cross-UK basis after orders for 1.048 million replacement primary tags and 262,000 replacement secondary tags were placed through 17 manufacturers by thousands of farmers.
Over 2006 some 1.454 million tags went missing too and in the five years between 2003 and 2007 farmers paid £29.63 million to ensure two tags were present in their cattle’s ears at all times.
“This works out at almost £6 million a year and it is alarming that the overall trend from 2003 is for ear tag loss to increase even though the UK cattle herd has shrunk,” said Ms Haywood.
“This suggests that tags are falling out more easily as manufacturers cope with welfare assessments which require the tag to fall out before an animal’s ear is ripped or torn.”
“The ID of cattle loaded, fully tagged, onto a wagon and taking them to an abattoir remains the owner’s responsibility but it is well known that in crowded conditions, with additional jostling caused by truck movement, that the rate of tag loss in transit is unusually severe.”
“It is for this reason that the NBA has called on the MHS, Trading Standards and now crown prosecutors to exercise commonsense when deciding whether or not farmers should be charged after tags have been lost when cattle are delivered to an abattoir.”
“After the two day trial at Peterhead the Sherriff, Malcolm Garden, said the only way prosecutors could be sure cattle loaded onto a lorry carried two tags would be if they supervised the loading themselves.”
“And the NBA would like to emphasise that the reason cattle are required to carry two tags is so they can still be fully identified if one tag falls out – and that cattle with one tag are still accepted into the food chain,” Ms Haywood added.
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