NFU Scotland has called for a clear mandate for the introduction of Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) Electronic Identification (EID) in Scottish cattle.

In response to a consultation by the Scottish Government the Union believes it is time to adopt the UHF technology tags.

However a spokesperson for the Approved Livestock Identification Manufacturers Association (ALIDMA) says it is reckless for Scotland to embrace UHF technology at the moment.

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Discussions on EID for Scottish cattle are now more than two decades old with many farmers frustrated about the lack of progress.

NFU Scotland Livestock Policy Manager Lisa Hislop, said: “UHF is the newer technology versus the now dated Low Frequency (LF), which is currently used in sheep. The benefits of UHF outstrip those of LF, notably the ability to achieve 100 percent read rates on-farm, in transport and in markets which improves the health and safety of anyone who works with cattle.

“UHF will be able to streamline the husbandry tasks on-farm including any inspections, as well as the potential to phase out paper passports, saving the industry more than £20,000 and the Scottish Government more than £500,000 on paper and postage.

“We appreciate there is confusion and misunderstandings around EID which is understandable given the considerable time taken to get to this point. But fundamentally UHF EID gives those who want to use technology the opportunity to get the most out of it.

“However, the benefit of UHF for all cattle keepers is that the tags will continue to be ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (WYSIWYG), meaning the animal’s ID will be printed on the tag and you can request a paper passport as is today. This also mitigates any concern about cross-border trade.”

However a spokesperson for the Approved Livestock Identification Manufacturers Association (ALIDMA) explains the body currently opposes UHF in Scotland. They said: “It is reckless for Scotland to make UHF tags mandatory and force this through. All the tag manufacturers have been ignored for months on end and locked out of the discussion room and trials on this.

“We have not been consulted on the development of UHF and no large commercial tag manufacturer is producing the tags. The lack of an international standard for UHF tags means we wont be manufacturing them. We need a full set of ISO standards including conformance and performance testing to make this change, and the legislation is simply not there. UHF will kill competition in the marketplace.

“It looks like UHF is going to be forced on the Scottish industry based on a biased report full of inaccuracies. The Scottish industry is getting only one side of the story. We have made several approaches to included and have been largely ignored.

“We have fundamental questions about the entire approach to UHF in Scotland. We are not saying this is a bad idea in the long run, but the rules need to be there to support a new ID scheme.

“There have to be questions asked why Scotland is the only nation which is going down the UHF route? All other countries with compulsory EID are running low frequency tags. Southern Ireland is running low frequency tags, Denmark and it is likely England and Wales will follow at least initially.

“At ALIDMA we have over 70 years of experience in tag production and development, whilst the UHF plan is being foisted on the industry by people who have never made a tag in their life.

“The UHF tag at the moment is inferior to the millions of LF tags which are being used right now across the globe. When Scottish farmers find these UHF tags failing in terms of retention an or readability, all hell will break lose.

“There is little doubt UHF will be 100% the right answer in a few years time, but until we have the standards and the independent testing, there is a massive risk the Scottish cattle sector will be a loser, big time.”

Chief executive of the National Beef Association Neil Shand said: “So there is no doubt UHF has the most potential, and in particular the ability to read from a distance gives the best benefit for health and safety of all livestock keepers and should be the number one driver for introduction. The rapid removal of passports is not a strong argument in an industry that is not close to full Information Technology take up, furthermore, if the national herd is not re-tagged, paper passports will follow cows around for many years.

“In England DEFRA officials are pushing excessively hard for LF technology which struggles massively gaining 100% read rates, and we are lobbying hard that they regulate as a minimum both technologies to ensure there are no cross border problems.

"Dual Tags with both frequency chips installed is our preferred choice, leaving all producers with the individual choice of what direction to take.”