Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Sunday, 21 June 2009 00:40 UK

Europe to consider sheep tag plea

European ministers will debate a Scottish proposal

A Scottish plea for the easing of tough new rules on the electronic tagging of sheep will be debated by EU ministers.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said he was "delighted" it would be considered at a meeting of the agriculture and fisheries council.

The European Commission hopes the rules will be the best way of tracing animals and stopping the spread of disease, such as foot-and-mouth.

But it has been met with protests from farmers in Scotland.

They fear it will help accelerate the industry's decline.

It is estimated that introducing the tagging will cost about £3 per sheep.

This could lead to many farmers cutting the size of their flocks.

The European plan was debated at Holyrood in May and the Scottish Government is proposing the rules be changed.

It wants to defer electronic identification of individual sheep in a proposal which has the backing of the UK Government.

'Burden on farmers'

Mr Lochhead said: "I am delighted that this Scottish proposal will be raised in Luxembourg.

"We must ensure that Scotland has an effective, efficient and workable traceability system for disease prevention and control.

"I raised this issue at a recent meeting with (UK environment secretary) Hilary Benn and I am delighted that it is now on the agenda."

He added: "We will continue engagement with the UK Government to press the commission to reduce the burden of implementation on Scottish farmers."

The National Farmers Union Scotland has warned the electronic readers involved in making the scheme work would in many cases be compromised by working conditions - especially in Scotland, where sheep are regularly sent out on to rocky or hilly terrain, often for months at a time.

The European Union first introduced a system of compulsory tagging in 2004, three years after the foot-and-mouth epidemic in Britain.

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