Identification and registration.

There are a number of EU regulations dealing with the identification and registration of animals.  The purpose is to create a comprehensive tracing system to protect animal health and food safety. There are different regulations in respect of different species/products.

Regulation in respect of the identification and registration of bovine animals and labelling of meat follow the pattern of the other regulations. They require double eartags for the individual identification of cattle.  This applies to cattle from the EU and all animals that at a holding born after 1 January 1998 or intended for trade within the EU.  They must be identified by an eartag inserted in each ear within 20 days of birth and in any event before leaving the holding of birth. Each eartag must bear the same unique code, identifying the animal and the holding in which it was born.

In the case of animals imported into the EU which have passed a veterinary test they must be identified by an eartag applied within 20 days of the veterinary test and before it leaves the holding.  The requirement does not apply where the holding of destination is a slaughterhouse in the EU state where the checks are carried out and the animal is slaughtered within 20 days of the checks.

All animals retain their original eartag.  No eartag may be removed or replaced without the permission of the competent national authority.  Consideration is given to electronic identification arrangement.

Movements and Information

Any person responsible for moving animals must retain information in relation to the movement document that accompanies all groups of animals every time they are moved. Countries may require additional information in the movement document.  Movement documents are kept for at least three years.  They are optional if the state has a fully operational centralized computer database.

National authorities keep a central registrar containing information on holdings within the state.  Information relates to the holding, persons responsible, activity, type of production and species kept.

Since 2008, a computerized database must contain certain information relating to the holding and animal movements.  Animal movements must be notified by the breeder to the authority within 7 days.

Since 2010 it’s compulsory to apply an electronic identification system.  States with at least 600000 such animals can make electronic systems optional for animals that are not involved in trade within the EU

Cattle Passports

Since 1998 all national authorities must issue passports for cattle within 14 days of notification of their birth or in the case of imports within 14 days of notification of their re-identification by the state concerned. Since 2000 states operate a computerized database which records cattle identities, holdings and cattle movement within their territory.

The authority may issue the passports for animals from other states.  In this case, the passport accompanying the animal must be surrendered to the state which issued it.

The passport must accompany the animal throughout all movement. It is returned to the authority when the animal is slaughtered.  The passport is surrendered by the animal’s keeper or the operator of the slaughterhouse within 7 days. When the animal is exported to a third country the passport is surrendered by the last keeper to the responsible authority where the animal is exported.

States which have a computerized database may decide not to issue passports to cattle which remain in their country and may require an animal to be accompanied by passport only if it’s moved to another state.

Except for hauliers, keepers of animals must maintain a computerized and manual register.  They must report to the responsible authority all births and losses of livestock and movement soon from the holding and entities in the animal’s passport. Information on the origin, identification and destination of animals is available on request by the authority for a period of at least three years.

Beef Labelling

Operators in organizations marketing EU or imported beef must label the beef at all stages of the marketing process.  When the product is not pre-wrapped they must supply information in written and visible form to the consumer at the end point of sale. The following must be shown on the label.

  • Reference number or code establishing the link between the meat and animal, group of animals from which the meat was derived.
  • Slaughtered in (country and license number of slaughterhouse)
  • Cutting, cut in (country and license number of the plant)

Since 2002 operators must indicate

  • The country where the animal was born
  • The country was the animal was fattened or bred
  • The country where the animal was slaughtered.

Where the beef is derived from an animal born, bred or slaughtered in a single country the information must be grouped under the heading Origin, followed by the name of the country.

Imported meat for which not all composed information is available is labelled origin non-EC followed by the name of the country at which it was slaughtered.

Labelling from minced beef must show

  • The reference number or code establishing the link between the meat and the animal or group of animals
  • The identification produced in followed by the country
  •  the indication origin where the country is not the same as the country of production
  • Country of slaughter

Operators may supplement the above. Operators or marketing organisations may include information complementary to what is supplied on the labelling.   There is an approval process.  They must send specification for approval to the responsible authority in which the beef was produced. The information must include

  • Information to displayed and labelled
  • Measures to be taken to guarantee information as accurate
  • Checks available at all stages of production and sale including those carried out by independent bodies recognized by the authority
  • Penalties to be applied in the case of an organization to members who fail to deal with the specification.

In the case of voluntary labelling of imported beef, the specification must be approved in advance by the authority in the third country where the meat is produced.

The Commission in conjunction with national authorities carries out on the spot inspections to ensure the compliance with the regulations.

The regulations in respect of identification of other animals follow broadly the same pattern as that above.

Sheep and Goats

There is a system of identification and registration of ovine (sheep etc)  and caprine (goats etc.) animals. All ovine and caprine animals born inholdings within the EU must be identified by an electronic transponder or eartag approved by the competent authorities affixed to one ear.  It must be non-degradable, tramper proof and easy to read throughout the animal’s lifetime without causing discomfort.  It must be visible at a distance and contain a code for the state where the holding is licensed.

There must be a second means of identification which can be a transponder for animals who already have an eartag as a first means of identification.  An eartag, a mark or tattoo for animals that already have an electronic transponder as a first means of identification.

States may authorize alternative means for animals that are intended for slaughter before the age of 12 months.  In this case one eartag bearing the country code and holding origin will suffice.

Identification must take place within 6 months following the birth of the animal and before it leaves the holding.  This may be extended for periods of up to 9 months for animals kept in extensive or free range farming conditions.  In the case of imported animals identification must take place at the holding of destination within 14 days.


Systems identification and registration of pigs requires

  • an eartag or tattoo
  • maintenance of a register in each holding
  • national computer database entry

The database includes all holdings that keep pigs within the state.

It must be kept up-to-date and give details of the marks used for identifying the holdings.

Information is kept for three years.

Keepers of pigs must keep a register on which they indicate the number of animals, information relating to movements.  Registers may be consulted on request.

Marks must be applied as soon as possible and in all cases before the animal leaves the holding of birth.  The approval of the competent authority is required to replace marks which have become illegible or are lost.  A new mark must be recorded in the register in order to maintain a link with the previous mark.

For movements of animals within the state, a national system may be allowed or approved by the Commission provided to conform with community regulations.

All animal keepers must provide a document to determine the origin and place of departure and destination of animals.  Information in relation to movements of animals not accompanied by a certificate or document required by veterinary or zootechnical legislation must remain available to the authorities for a minimum period set by it.

Animals imported by a third country to be slaughtered on the EU do not necessarily have to be identified in accordance with the directive if they pass veterinary checks laid down for animals coming from third countries and it is slaughtered within 30 days of those tests.

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