The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Mr Joe Walsh TD, has welcomed the start-up today of the National Sheep Identification System (NSIS).

"This is a red letter day for all involved in Ireland's sheep sector, whether they are producers, processors or involved in marketing our sheepmeat," the Minister said. "The NSIS system which came into operation throughout the country this morning is a major, positive development which has the potential to deliver far-reaching benefits in the areas of disease monitoring and control, traceability and consumer assurance and marketing. In putting into place a system by which every sheep will be individually numbered and can be traced from farm of origin to finished carcass we have brought a new level of badly needed transparency and accountability to the sector. This will enable us to remedy many of the shortcomings which have existed for some time and which the FMD saga so graphically illustrated, and to deal effectively with those who might engage in abuses in relation to identification, importation or other areas. The NSIS system places Ireland to the fore within the EU in terms of sheep traceability systems and has established a basis on which we can build in many different ways as we move forward."

The Minister pointed out that as and from this morning all sheep moving off holdings, whether to slaughter plants, marts or (when sheep movement generally is allowed to resume) other holdings, must be tagged and documented in accordance with NSIS. Untagged or undocumented sheep will not be accepted by marts or meat factories nor will it be legal for anyone else to accept or buy them. All sheep remaining on farms must be tagged by 15 December, 2001 at the latest. The Minister stressed that the requirements of NSIS, which have been given full legal force by an Order made under the Diseases of Animals Act, encompass flockowners, marts, meat factories and all others who keep or trade in sheep.

Minister Walsh said that his Department had for the past month sustained a major information campaign aimed at flockowners. The purpose of this campaign, which has involved an Information Pack being delivered to every flockowner in the country, telephone helplines, weekly advertisements in the farming press and extensive media interviews, has been to explain how NSIS works, to bring home the fact that it would start on 21 June and to stress the need for flockowners to order their tags in good time. It has been possible since 25 May for flockowners to order tags from any of the eight suppliers approved by the Department. To date, some 1,470,000 tags have been cleared through the ordering system and suppliers are currently working on a wave of orders received in recent days. "Having announced to the Dail in early March my intention to put in place with the minimum delay a proper system of identification and traceability for sheep, I am delighted that we are seeing the start-up of NSIS as and from this morning. Initial reports from around the country are that it is working well. It will certainly involve a measure of extra work for flockowners, factories and others but I believe such effort can be more than justified by the benefits NSIS can generate. I want to again encourage all concerned to unequivocally commit to making NSIS a success".