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Brussels, 17 December 2003

Animal disease control: Byrne welcomes Council adoption of eartagging for sheep and goats

The Council of Ministers has adopted 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 quickly determine an animal's place of origin and its movements throughout the EU. The Regulation will reinforce current measures, specifically by gradually introducing 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, welcomed Council's adoption of the Regulation: "The foot and mouth disease crisis showed us the urgency of having systems in place to prevent the spread of contagion. The tagging system introduced by this Regulation will make it possible to rapidly determine where animals come from and where they have been, making it possible to trace the movements of infected animals. Great care has been taken to make sure the practical implications of this legislation do not become a burden for farmers".

What is the current situation?

There are some 175 million sheep and goats in the European Union including some 70 million lambs slaughtered annually. Sheep are currently identified with one eartag or tattoo and the information is linked to the farm not the sheep. This means it is very difficult to track the movements of individual sheep and to deal rapidly and effectively with an outbreak of disease.

What will the Regulation do?

The Regulation introduces an identification and registration system that ensures that sheep and goats are identified and all movements are recorded. Sheep and goats will receive two eartags with codes to allow the individual identification and registration of all sheep and goats over the years. One of the eartags may be replaced by an electronic identifier or possibly a tattoo, except for animals intended for trade within the EU.

Tagging will commence in mid-2005 for new-born animals and animals meant to be traded within the EU.

Member States may postpone the tagging of lambs 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.

Farm registers will include information on which farm an individual animal came from or was sent to. Today records are kept on the basis of flock movements. When electronic identification is introduced, more precise information will be recorded in farm registers on the individual identification code, sex, breed and genotype (if known), births and deaths of animals as well as movements to or from the holding.

A movement document will also have information on which farms the animal is travelling to and from as well as the number of animals being moved. When electronic identification is introduced the document will contain information on the individual identification of animals.

By mid-2005, a computerised database will be established with data on farms (keeper, species, number of animals). Information on movements of groups of animals will be recorded when electronic identification is introduced.

What about electronic identification?

From 1 January 2008, electronic identification will be compulsory for all animals in Member States with a sheep and goat population numbering more than 600,000 animals. It will be optional in Member States with a smaller sheep and goat population(1) except for animals intended for trade within the EU. In Member States with a goat population of less than 160,000(2) electronic identification is optional for goats unless they are meant for trade within the EU. This date will be confirmed or amended following a report from the Commission by June 2006 on the experience gained so far.

The Commission tested electronic livestock identification through a large-scale project (IDEA) from 1998 and 2002. 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. It may be a simple model only showing the code with the follow-up registration done manually.

Next steps

The Regulation will enter into effect 18 months after it is published in the Official Journal in early 2004.

(1) Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Sweden and all Acceding States except Hungary.

(2) Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom and all Acceding States.

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