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British farmers have pledged to fight to the "bitter end" over EU plans for all sheep to be fitted with electronic ID tags as the UK government ruminates on how to implement the scheme.

The EU has long recognised that all sheep tend to look alike to humans, and is looking to RFID technology to ensure animals can be tracked throughout their lives, and beyond [up to a point]. The EU insist that while farmers will have to shell out for the chips not to mention readers - it will bring savings in identification and data handling costs, and will enable better disease tracking.

The EU this month considered a report on a pilot of the scheme in France, which seemed to suggest acceptance of the idea, and envisioned compulsory EIDs next year. The average cost is expected to be around €0.80 per animal.

According to a report in 2007, which the EU also considered this month, the cost of tagging each animal at as low as €0.29 for a "slaughter lamb" with a holding tag, up to €2.25 for an animal tagged with a "standard ruminal bolus and a conventional ear tag".

Farmers will, of course have to shell out for readers, and presumably kit to "administer" the tags, including the frankly rather scary "boluses". The total cost to UK farmers - the biggest bloc of sheep keepers in the Union- is expected to be in the region of £65m.

The UK government has kicked off a "consultation" on the program as it considers how to implement the scheme.

However, it seems clear what farmers think already, with angry ovine rearers rushing to give the farming rags and the Telegraph their unhappy view.

John Mercer, chief livestock adviser to the National Farmers' Union, told the Telegraph: "It's a crazy rule. It's not wanted. It's not needed. And it could, potentially, devastate the sheep industry. We really need political pressure now."

John Hore, a farmer from Pilning, near Bristol, told the Telegraph: "We are prepared to fight this to the bitter end.

Mick Holder, chairman of the Forest of Dean Commoners Association told thisisgloucestershire.co.uk that the scheme had little chance of working.

"I don't think it will solve anything, all it will do is create a mountain of paperwork and be really expensive to implement," he said.

He added, "There are hundreds of sheep out in the Forest and before you can tag them you've got to find them."

Which suggests that the British sheep industry faces some more fundamental problems than we thought. Unfortunately, for the farmers, not to mention the sheep and goats, the bitter end is exactly where things will end up, as they start "applying" the boluses from the end of this year. ®

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