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Brussels, 16 November 2004

Questions and Answers on the Court of Auditors report on the bovine identification database (SIRB)

What is the System for the Identification and Registration of Bovine Animals (SIRB)?

The SIRB was set up to trace cattle in the EU to prevent the spread of infectious disease. It consists of four components: ear tags for the individual identification of animals, a passport for each animal, individual registers kept on holdings and a computerised database with information on the holdings, the animals and their movements. The system consists of separate national databases, set up by each Member State.

Does this system effectively protect public health?

Yes, the system does make it possible to trace the movement of animals and protect both public and animal health. However, the Commission agrees with the Court of Auditors that there are some problems with the implementation of the system in some Member States and the Commission has therefore proposed several improvements to be implemented by the Member States, following inspections and recommendations by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO). The main issues of concern to the Court are: separate national databases with no harmonised format cause problems for the exchange of information; animal movements may be “lost” as a result of different time delays allowed in different Member States for the registration of animals registration; a Member State receiving animals may issue new passports for the animals and fail to return the old passports to the Member State of origin. The Commission did propose to set up a database system with more harmonised criteria, but the Court has recognised that a political choice was made by the Member States to each design its own database, most appropriate for its conditions. While Commission (FVO) inspections have also noted the problem of passports not being returned to the Member State of origin, traceability is still guaranteed since the holding of origin is obliged to maintain records of where the animals have moved to.

How will traceability be improved?

The Commission welcomes the Court’s recommendation that the Commission be given more means to harmonise the identification and registration system. The Court carried out its audit in 2002 and several improvements have been made since then towards defining Member State obligations more precisely. For example, the SIRB system requires cattle keepers to report each birth, death and movement within a certain time delay.

Different time delays, in particular for reporting of births, were being used in different Member States and the Commission has therefore adopted a new Regulation (already in force), clarifying the option for Member States to fix the delay using the date of tagging, which is at the latest 20 days after birth, instead of the date of birth.

Another important development is the TRACES system (IP/04/487) which has already been set up by the European Commission. TRACES was set up to consolidate and simplify existing systems for the trade of animals and is able to trace animal movements both within the EU and from outside the EU.

Why is there no integrated approach to the recording and control of animals, as the Court desires?

Overall, the Court recommends that there be more coordination, streamlining of operations, controls and application of sanctions; and transfer of information between the veterinary services responsible for bovine identification and registration and the bodies responsible for the management and control of the bovine premia (using IACS). To fully integrate the SIRB with IACS would, given the systems’ different objectives, jeopardise the smooth operation of the animal premiums system. The only relevant “reconciliation control” to be made is to ensure that animals for which a premium is claimed appear in the bovine database. The Commission covers this important aspect in its clearance of accounts audits. In drafting and interpreting IACS legislation, due consideration has been given to align the two systems as much as possible. Furthermore, due care has been taken to ensure that aid reductions or exclusions are applied in proportion to the offence and only where appropriate.

Will control and penalty systems be reinforced?

The Court has noted that in some instances, control and penalty systems within the SIRB system are not adapted to the holders of bovine animals, such as vendors, assembly centres or abattoirs. The Commission agrees and has already urged Member States to improve this situation. Only the minimum level of controls and minimum administrative sanctions were foreseen in the legislation, leaving the option open to Member States to go further. However, the legislation does specify that a Member State must increase controls immediately when it becomes clear that the EU rules on identification are not being complied with. The Commission has improved the relevant legislation on reporting the results of controls and sanctions.

For the Commission reaction on the general report of the Court of Auditors see IP/04/1361 and MEMO/04/259.

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