Mandatory electronic identification tagging (EID) of cattle has been called for by the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).
However, only about 1% of current herd keepers are opting for EID, which the Department of Agriculture already provides for in its current contract for supply of bovine tags.
The EID tags cost about 1 more than conventional tags. As it stands, EU member states are obliged to have EID facilities (electronic tag or bolus) in place by July 2019 — and can choose to make EID compulsory from that date.
Minister Simon Coveney says he has no plans to introduce mandatory EID for bovine animals, due to the poor response from herd-owners — but his Department will keep the position under review.
“It is difficult to project the precise exchequer savings, if any, that would accrue following the mandatory introduction of EID,” said the Minister.
However, ICOS estimates the Department could save several million euros per year, because EID could end the need for animal passports.
Feeding systems, fertility, health and welfare monitoring are all possible with EID.
Ray also said “EID on cattle would make them more attractive to some potential buyers, both at home and abroad. The major purchasers of our live exports are big feed lots, whether they be in Spain, the Netherlands or Italy, and they have embraced EID technology. If it was a mandatory system, Irish cattle would be even more attractive as a result”.
Improved health and safety of farmers, mart and meat factory staff, is the main advantage seen by ICOS.
The co-operatives organisation’s livestock and environmental services executive, Ray Doyle, said: “Currently, we have to physically read tags on animals.
“These tags can often be covered by muck and have to be cleaned and read. Farmers or mart and meat factory staff have to lean in over the animal to try to read them.
"There is an obvious health and safety risk there. If bovine EID is in place, one can simply have a race reader over the animals and all animals will be read instantly from several metres away with no health and safety risk to anybody”.
In a recent presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Doyle said faster cattle movement data would be another advantage.
Real-time movement data means if a farmer sells an animal through a mart, the Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) national database would be instantly updated, rather than at the end of the mart sale day which is currently the case.
Increased accuracy of tag number recordings, and paperless traceability in the food chain are other advantages claimed by ICOS.
An EID bolus or a subcutaneous vial would almost eliminate cattle rustling in its current form, Mr Doyle told the Oireachtas Committee.