The Conservative instigated debate on Thursday 28/1/09 about EID's at the National Assembly was a strange event, technically it was about Welsh agriculture but it ended up discussing EID's and was portrayed by the Conservatives as an opportunity to voice support for Welsh agriculture. Nothing at all wrong with that but the end result seems to have the Conservatives and the opportunistic Liberal Democrats actually opposing Welsh agriculture!
To re-cap, Welsh agriculture is opposed to the introduction of EID's in the sheep flock because it is expensive, unreliable technology when applied in the larger flocks we have in Wales. However since this is European legislation passed by the relevant bodies, the One Wales Government has no option but to implement its requirements by December 2009. A failure to implement will result in financial penalities, which is not what is required at this point in time. The twin track policy of the Agriculture Minister, Elin Jones AC, is quite sensible, object to the compulsory implementation of EID's and say so in Brussels but in the meantime proceed with the implementation programme here in Wales. As an aside it seems that DEFRA has negotiated a derogation for sheep destined for slaughter which are less than 12 mths old. As with all regulations the devil is in the detail, which I am sure will emerge in the next few weeks. This would be an important derogation for Wales as well.
Back to the Assembly debate, the Conservatives made sensible points about the practicality of the scheme, and seemed to be encouraging the Minister to flout European law and legal advice. This is the party of law and order we are talking about! I had to read quite a bit from the Liberal Democrats to find out what they were saying - as usual not much substance. There was one relevant question - would the slaughter derogation apply in Wales? They were technically incorrect on another point, tracability doesn't stop or "Clonk" when the head is cut off. Individual animal tracability disappears but abattoirs are required to have batch numbers that identify the farm - its a moot point but relevant.
The final amended motion in the Plenary sessions reads thus:-
Motion NDM4120 as amended: that the National Assembly for Wales:
- recognises the valuable role Welsh agriculture has to play in battling the economic downturn;
- regrets the introduction of compulsory electronic identification for sheep;
- notes that the current system of sheep tagging provides a fit-for-purpose system of traceability;
- welcomes the Welsh Assembly Government’s continuing representations to the European Commission opposing the proposals to introduce electronic identification.
This is where I am perplexed, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted against this motion. I can therefore assume that they do not recognise the valuable role of Welsh agriculture in battling the economic downturn, they have no regrets on the introduction of electronic identification, they do not think that the current system is fit for purpose and do not welcome the Welsh Assembly Government's representations to the European Commission opposing electronic tagging. Have they gone mad? Again it seems that blind partisanship and party politics play a more important role in Conservative and Liberal Democrat politics than serving the real interests of farmers in Wales. The Conservatives were inconsistent in marshalling their arguments, and it will be a serious worry to Liberal Democrats that their new Leader was so comprehensively outmanouvered. The score Elin Jones 2 Conservatives and Liberal Democrats 0.