The European Commission believes that the results of the Electronic Identification of Animals (Idea) project, published this week, confirm the feasibility of electronically tagging cattle, sheep and goats. The experiment was carried out across six EU nations with some very positive results.
"Individual identification of the livestock in the EU is essential to prevent agricultural subsidy frauds and reinforce health and safety controls," said European research commissioner Philippe Busquin. "This is crucial for tracing animals during major animal disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth disease."
Idea was a large-scale experiment that ran from March 1998 to December 2001. One million farm animals were electronically identified in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Some 390,000 cattle, 500,000 sheep and 29,000 goats were fitted with a selection of tested and certified electronic ear-tags, ruminal boluses (ceramic capsules retained in the animals' reticulum or second stomach) or injectable transponders.
Correct functioning of the devices was verified after they had been applied to animals by checking the reading after one day, one month and then annually as well as in case of movements, at slaughter, and after recovery of the device.
The Commission is confident that Idea demonstrated the effectiveness of using electronic identification of livestock, and that there is no technical impediment to its introduction for cattle, buffaloes, sheep and goats.
A draft proposal has now been submitted proposing the establishment of a system for the identification and registration of ovine and caprine animals. This will result in the gradual introduction of an identification system to mark each animal in all Member States, making it possible to trace the individual movements of sheep and goats.
The ultimate aim of this is to improve animal health, movement monitoring and subsidy verification by providing enhanced protection for all EU consumers.
The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health is set to adopt further guidelines and procedures for the implementation of electronic identification. If necessary, the Commission will submit a report to the European Council by the end of 2005, based on the experience of implementing electronic identification.