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Brussels, 18 December 2002

Controlling the spread of animal diseases: Commission proposes eartagging for sheep and goats

The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Regulation on the identification and registration of sheep and goats, as part of its ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of animal diseases. Stopping animal disease epidemics requires quick action. To do this it must be possible to determine easily the place of origin of an animal as well as its movements throughout the EU. The proposed Regulation will reinforce current measures, specifically by introducing gradually in all Member States an identification system to mark each animal, making it possible to trace the individual movements of sheep and goats.

David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, commented on the importance of the proposal: "The foot and mouth disease crisis showed us the urgency of having systems in place to prevent the spread of contagion. The tagging system proposed in this Regulation will make it possible to rapidly determine where animals come from and where they have been, thereby making it possible to trace the movements of infected animals. It is imperative that the same requirements apply in all Member States in order to control disease outbreaks."

The Commission's objective in proposing a new Regulation is to introduce an identification and registration system that ensures that sheep and goats bear an identification mark and all movements are recorded. New-born sheep and goats will receive two eartags with codes to allow individual identification thus gradually registering all sheep and goats over the years. However, Member States may derogate from individual tagging of lambs under 6 months of age which are reared in extensive or free range conditions as long as they stay on the farm. As soon as they leave the holding, they have to be identified. However, sheep and goat traded across borders will need this individual identification latest as of 1 July 2003.

Farm registers will include precise information on identification, sex, breed and genotype (if known), births and deaths of animals as well as movements onto or from the holding. Today records are kept on the basis of flock movements.

A computerised database shall be established by central authorities with as a first step data on farms (keeper, species, number of animals) and as a second step entries in the database for each movement. Movement documents will include more precise data to identify animals, their origin and their destination.

A reinforced system means additional efforts for both authorities and operators, but there is general consensus that the current system has to be improved. In the short term additional costs will have to be met by the sheep and goat business, although in the long term improvements to animal health will be a benefit to business.

Electronic identification to come soon

Between 1998 and 2002, the Commission tested electronic livestock identification through a large-scale project (IDEA). The technology is ready and now systems need to be developed so that electronic identification can be used in practice at EU level. The aim is to move to an electronic system by 1 July 2006.

The electronic identifiers contain a microchip encoded with the individual identification code of the animal, which cannot be changed. This code is read by an electronic reader, which may be equipped with a computer making the registration of the animal directly or it may be a simple model only showing the code, and the follow-up registration is then done manually.

Next steps

It is expected that the Greek Presidency will wish to move the proposal forward during the first half of 2003. The European Parliament will also be consulted, in accordance with Article 37. Co-decision is not required under Article 37.

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