The Ulster Farmers’ Union has urged the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to hold a public consultation on proposals for the phased withdrawal of paper registration and movement documents for livestock.
The call for action came after the union met with DAERA officials to discuss the proposals, which they believe to be ‘too ambitious’ and fail to take account of ‘practical or equality considerations’.
Speaking after the meeting, Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt said: “It is important that DAERA provides a comprehensive service to assist farmers with meeting their legislative requirements for the traceability of livestock.
“While the UFU understands the resource pressures the department is facing and their wish for farmers to use more online and telephone services, we do not accept DAERA’s proposals to remove the service for accepting paper registration and movement documents for livestock.”
Almost 30% of cattle registrations are currently completed on paper. This represents approximately 160,000 birth notifications per annum.
Mr Chestnutt added: “While we are supportive of the promotion and development of online services, DAERA’s target to move all farmers who use paper registrations onto online or telephony services by May 2018 is much too ambitious and does not take into account any of the practical or equality considerations this would involve. There are difficulties in rural areas with access to broadband.
“Furthermore, there is an ageing population of farmers in Northern Ireland, many of whom are not computer literate. If farmers are not computer literate, paper is an option they are confident with and this is very important given the serious risks that surround inaccurate traceability information with livestock.
“We are calling on DAERA for a formal consultation and equality impact assessment on this matter, before this proposal, which is not fair or proportionate goes any further.”
The Livestock and Meat Commission’s Industry Development Manager Colin Smith confirmed that the DAERA proposals, if implemented, would have implications for both the Red Tractor and Farm Quality Assurance Schemes.
“Both are managed on the basis that they must fully comply with all relevant legislation,” he said.
“However, any changes, in terms of farmer compliance, must be agreed by the Standards’ Committee that oversees the detailed measures contained within the schemes.”
He added: “However, I can foresee a number of practical challenges that will confront producers.
“Older farmers do not feel comfortable when it comes to using IT. There is also the issue of poor broadband availability in many rural areas.”
A DAERA Spokesperson said: “DAERA officials recently met with UFU representatives for a second time to discuss UFU concerns about the phased withdrawal of notification documents in relation to the identification, registration and movement of cattle. At the meeting it was agreed that the UFU would write to the Department setting out its case, which it has done in recent days. DAERA will carefully consider the issues raised and respond in due course.”