SHETLAND has cautiously welcomed concessions that could save the local sheep industry hundreds of thousands of pounds for not complying with new electronic tagging rules.
However crofters are concerned that the unpopular new electronic identification (EID) tagging system will not only damage their incomes, but the heavy new tags are harming their livestock.
On Wednesday the Scottish government announced the European Commission had eased back on its demands for 100 per cent compliance with EID rules, which crofters say are unworkable in Shetland.
The Shetland agricultural industry has lobbied rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead on the issue, saying EID will lead to producers losing subsidy for breaking rules they are unable to comply with.
The Shetland Agricultural Panel said crofters could lose up to five per cent of more than £5 million in subsidy that reaches the isles every year.
Now the EC has said it will no longer demand 100 per cent compliance and will take account of technical failures with tag reading devices and difficulties associated with gathering sheep on extensive hill terrain.
Environmental health manager Maggie Dunne, who is pursuing the issue on behalf of the agricultural panel, said she was pleased, but cautious about the development.
“It’s good to see this coming out, but obviously we have to wait until we see how it actually works in practice. The subsidy means so much to Shetland that we need to know how significantly this is going to impact and shall be looking for more information from the Scottish government.”
Shetland Islands Council has also raised concerns about animal welfare with Brussels, saying they have already received reports of ear damage caused by the “larger and heavier” non-EID tags.
Rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead said he was pleased the EC had accepted the government’s call for a more proportionate compliance system.
“I do not for a minute pretend that the regime will be easy for many producers but I do hope that this news will at least lift the fear that unavoidable errors would lead to draconian penalties. This has been the source of anxiety for many.
“The Scottish government is now finalising guidance for sheep farmers, including how to reduce the risk of incurring cross compliance penalties, in the light of this encouraging development.”