Calls for the introduction of electronic identification and electronic data transfer for cattle, sheep, pigs and goats have been welcomed by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The recommendations, put forward by the industry steering group, include the development of a central database for sheep and electronic data transfer to reduce the paper burden on livestock farmers.

Among the potential benefits are improved public and animal health protection and disease control, improved business efficiency, reduced red-tape burdens on the industry, verification of headage-based subsidy claims and increased consumer confidence in home and export markets.

However, the report advises that, although technology exists to support on-farm electronic identification systems, it may be some time before electronic readers are capable of coping with the range of animals at farms, markets and abattoirs.

Animal Health Minister Elliot Morley welcomed the report, saying he was pleased that industry representatives were working closely with Defra officials to develop common sense advice on the technical issues: "I am convinced that electronic identification of farmed animals is the way forward - especially in respect of sheep, where the FMD outbreak drew attention to the need to monitor animal movements.

"The Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming drew attention to the need for electronic identification and electronic transfer of information. The European Commission is also formulating proposals for identification, taking account of EID.

"Together, EID and the electronic transmission of information to a central database will provide the most practical and cost-effective means of gathering information on individual animals. However, we need to sort out the technical issues first to ensure compatibilityand to take account of the developing European policy," he said.

To read the news about an ID scheme for pigs in the Republic of Ireland, click here.