Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

New rules are 20 miles of utter bureaucratic madness

Declan O’Brien

There's a tale told of a truck driver delivering a load of gravel in west Limerick. The poor man got lost in a maze of back roads and felt he was being driven around in circles by the often contradictory advice he received from well-meaning locals.

Eventually, he saw an old man strolling down the road and he stopped and enquired one last time for directions to his elusive destination.

"The farm you're looking for is just half a mile that way as the crow flies," the old man said as he pointed over the hedge.

"That's great," replied the exasperated truck driver, "but what would the crow do if it was driving a Hino."

Last week's debacle with the 20-mile rule for livestock farmers brought that particular story to mind.

Arguments about whether the new rules should be implemented on a straight-line-on-the-map basis or according to the twists and turns of our country roads will surely be lurking in the long grass if this particular piece of bureaucratic madness gets the green light.

Will a farmer in Tarbert, north Kerry, be allowed to take land around Killimer in west Clare, since its just five miles or six miles across the Shannon estuary, or will the distance by road necessitate him having to get a second herd number?

Such cases may seem daft, but this is the sort of stuff that could arise.

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The motivation behind the rule changes and the manner in which farmers were informed has to be questioned.

A Department statement said implementation of the new rules had been deferred "pending clarification of a number of issues, in particular the circumstances in which a land parcel more than 20 miles from the home farm does not necessitate acquiring a separate herd number".

Surely that should have been sorted out before letters were sent to 2,500 farmers.

In talks with the farm bodies, the Department is understood to have pointed out that these rules were already in place but had not been implemented.

Maybe they hadn't been implemented because it was accepted that they were unworkable, bureaucratic, costly and unnecessary, as John Waters of the IFA has argued.

The decision to implement the rules followed criticism from the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO). Worryingly, it has been suggested that a far stricter interpretation of the regulations had been sought by the FVO. This would have left farmers with land more than 5km from their home holding needing a second herd number.

Given that half of Ireland's 120,000 farms are fragmented, such a move would have left a fair percentage of farmers on the wrong side of the limit.

Department officials have also claimed that the new regulations were required to counter disease outbreaks, particularly the likes of foot and mouth and bluetongue.

However, since an outbreak of the former would lead to a total shut down of the country and given that the latter is carried by midges, it is difficult to see any real benefits in terms of disease prevention from these regulations.

In a sensible response to the proposed measures, the ICSA argued that the 20-mile distinction was arbitrary and without any scientific foundation.

The additional costs which would flow from these measures could be substantial. Affected farmers would be required to carry out pre-movement blood testing and AIMS notification prior to moving animals.

The decision by the Department of Agriculture to defer implementation of the controversial regulations was certainly a wise one but you'd have to wonder why such measures were ever thought necessary in the first place.

The Government and EU have stated that a more farmer-friendly and less bureaucratic CAP will be a primary goal of the 2013 reforms. An early start on that front would be welcome.

Irish Independent