EU insists British cows must be retagged in Northern Ireland as Mad Cow Disease ‘started in UK’

Brussels has rejected demands that British cows be spared having their ears retagged with an EU code in Northern Ireland


The European Commission has insisted its tagging system must be maintained as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) – otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease – was first detected in the UK.

British claims that the requirement is unnecessary have been roundly rejected.

As part of the Brexit deal, the Northern Ireland Protocol means the province has to continue following EU animal health rules.

A Commission spokesperson said: “Animals must be identified using a single well-defined EU system based on unique numbers and codes referenced in a unique EU database.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with the EU's Maros Sefcovic
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with the EU's Maros Sefcovic

“The EU continues to explain this process to our UK counterparts.”

He added: “The origin of these tagging rules is the BSE crisis.”

BSE was first found in the UK in 1986.

In the 1990s, the EU imposed an export ban on British beef that lasted more than three years.

France only lifted its ban after six years, and even then when its hand was forced by a European Court of Justice ruling.

Cows have ear tags, an ID number and a country code, which allow them to be tracked.

The aim is to trace outbreaks of the disease.

British cows entering Northern Ireland for meat production or breeding have to have their UK ear tags replaced with an EU Northern Ireland code.

This is because the livestock come from a non-EU or “third” country.

EU cows travelling through Britain to Northern Ireland do not need to be retagged.

British cows arriving in Northern Ireland normally have three ear tags, two dating from birth.

The EU rules mean another two tags must be attached.

“EU traceability rules require that animals are identified with a tag complying with EU rules, but it does not require UK tags or other tags to be removed,” the Commission spokesman told The Telegraph.

Mad Cow Disease was first detected in the UK in the 1990s
Mad Cow Disease was first detected in the UK in the 1990s

Brussels believes the rules are needed to differentiate between cows in Northern Ireland and those in the rest of the UK.

British negotiators argue the UK system already makes it possible to tell the difference.

It comes as talks continue over the Protocol, with the British team insisting its rules are unworkable.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss maintains the Protocol “must be changed to protect the hard-won peace” in Northern Ireland.

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