The Irish government is to be congratulated for taking the decision to push ahead with the mandatory electronic (EID) tagging of cattle. The new measures will fully come fully into effect during 2022.

EID tags have been used within the sheep industry for many years, so we know that the technology works well. The benefits they bring are manifold.

To begin with, they make the actual identification of animals so much easier and faster. As a consequence, this will help to speed up all herd-testing procedures.

But, by far, the most significant impact of EID tagging will be the technology’s ability to improve traceability within the cattle sector. By their nature, EID tags are harder to remove and tamper with.

This means that it should be much more difficult to change an animal’s identity at any stage during its lifetime. We all know that ‘identity fraud’ is a major issue within the livestock industry, so anything that can be done to crack down on it must be welcomed.

Will EID tagging impact TB testing?

It will also be interesting to see if the introduction of EID tags has any impact on official TB rates.

Again, the accurate identification of every animal at time of testing is a critically important component of any disease-testing process. I find the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association's (ICMSA) response to these developments to be narrow-minded for two reasons.

First off, objecting on the grounds of increased cost makes no sense, given that a financial subvention from government will be available to facilitate the procurement of the new tags at farm level.

Secondly, the EID decision can be used as a means to further promote live cattle exports from Ireland on the back of the enhanced levels of animal traceability that the technology can deliver.

Northern Ireland

The need for Northern Ireland to follow suit, where the EID tagging of cattle is concerned, seems obvious. However, this week’s decision taken in Dublin may deliver a windfall benefit for beef farmers north of the border, irrespective of Belfast deciding to go down the EID route.

Currently, store cattle exported to Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland, are not eligible for farm quality assurance in Northern Ireland at time of slaughter.

This came about because the decision was taken – primarily on the back of pressure from the UK supermarkets – not to officially recognise the birth dates and the cross-border movement records of stock into the north. But surely the grounds to review this decision are now available? Given that the republic will soon have a superior cattle identification and traceability system in place, relative to every region of the UK. I know that many beef finishers in Northern Ireland would welcome the opportunity of, again, being able to source stores for finishing across the border. I sense that the opportunity to have these traditional trading practices reinstated, may not be that far away.