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Beef Industry

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress in establishing a computerised cattle traceability system for Great Britain. [15849]

We are continuing to make good progress towards getting this system in place. I announced to the House on 30 July, Official Report, column 310, that the organisation responsible for administering the system, the British Cattle Movement Service, (BCMS) will be based in Workington, Cumbria. I also announced subsequently that BCMS will take over responsibility for cattle passports. There are now two further developments to report.First, the Government consider it very important for there to be as much reporting of cattle movements to the new cattle traceability database by electronic mail as possible. This should reduce the paperwork burden on businesses which move large numbers of cattle, such as livestock markets and abattoirs. To help such businesses, we are issuing a protocol today for them to follow in order to communicate with the database by e-mail. Copies are being sent to all livestock markets and abattoirs in Great Britain. I very much hope that markets and abattoirs will invest in the relatively small changes needed to their IT systems over the next few months. This work needs to start now if it is to be completed by the time the new computerised system goes live in 1998.Secondly, the Government have decided to charge for the cattle traceability system via cattle passports. Farmers applying for cattle passports will pay a fee which will cover the costs of the new computerised system. This follows consideration of a wide range of alternatives, including charging on the basis of the number of movements for which a business is responsible, charging via ear tags, charging at slaughter and charging via an annual registration fee for cattle producers. Charging via passports was chosen because it should be easy to enforce, since cattle without passports cannot go for human consumption. Because it is simple, administrative costs will be kept down so benefiting industry directly. The fee is expected to be in the range £5 to £10 per animal. The livestock industry will be involved in how this method of charging will be implemented, for example through its representatives on the Project Board which is managing the introduction of the computerised system.