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Microchipping sheep idea ruled out due to risks

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

MICROCHIPPING sheep has been suggested as a potential deterrent for sheep rustlers.

There has been a recent spike in animal thefts in South Down with two thefts reported from a flock in Rathfriland area last month.

The agricultural crime wave has prompted South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells to asked the Agriculture Minister whether she would consider microchipping.

A microchip is a small electronic device, about the size of a grain of rice, that is implanted under a pet's skin. Every chip has a unique 15-digit number encased in a protective shell which is 'read' using a special scanner.

Responding to Mr Wells' suggestion that microchipping could be a good way to keep tabs on animals and reunite them with their owners when found, agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen was cautious given the "potential risks to the food chain".

“My department is aware of recent thefts involving sheep in the South Down area."

She said that she has "no plans to approve the use of injectable identifiers in Northern Ireland given the potential risks to the food chain, the fact that animals bearing them cannot be moved to another member state, and as boluses are available as an alternative".

The Minister said that livestock theft lies with the PSNI however she was "very aware of the real concerns about rural crime and livestock thefts across the farming community".

“A number of joint operations involving VSEB and the PSNI have taken place and investigations are ongoing. PSNI officers trained by Veterinary Service Enforcement Branch (VSEB) are involved in these investigations.

“Responsibility for livestock theft lies with the PSNI, however DAERA, through its VSEB and CAFRE, works closely with the PSNI in relation to tackling the problem.

“DAERA continues to work with the DOJ, the PSNI and representatives of the farming community on a number of joint initiatives aimed at reducing rural crime and raising awareness of action that can be taken to help prevent rural crime, including Farm Watch, the Freeze-branding initiative and the Crimestoppers campaign.

“I would encourage farmers to participate in these initiatives and to do all they can to secure their properties.

“While eartags are the most commonly used means of identifying sheep and goats, Council Regulation (EC) No 21/2004, which provides for the identification and traceability of sheep and goats, also permits the use of ruminal boluses and, in the case of animals not intended for intra-Community trade, injectable transponders.

“My Department did not allow the use of injectable transponders when we introduced electronic identification (EID) in 2010 because of concerns that they can migrate within the animal's body and potentially impact on food safety. This reflected the position in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. My department has, however, approved a bolus for use as an official identifier for both sheep and goats.

“After consulting the sheep and goat sectors in England, DEFRA allowed the use of injectable transponders from early 2014 in goats not destined for export or for human consumption. Defra does not allow their use for the identification of sheep as representatives of the sheep industry were not supportive. Injectable identifiers are not currently in use in England as no supplier has yet submitted a model for Defra approval.

“If a keeper is concerned that his or her sheep are at risk of theft they can decide to apply a bolus to some or all of their animals if they wish. The eartag applied to a sheep carrying a bolus must be light blue, which indicates that a bolus is present."

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