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Accepted Paper:

Digital sheep: visions of data futures in British sheep farming  
Hugh Williamson (University of Exeter) Sarah Hartley (University of Exeter)

Short abstract:

Livestock traceability systems create new possibilities for integrating large quantities of data about animals’ health, productivity and movements. This paper asks, what visions do diverse actors in British sheep farming have for data integration and what issues arise from these visions?

Long abstract:

Government-mandated livestock traceability systems in Britain and the European Union involving the allocation of unique lifetime identifiers to individual animals create new possibilities for integrating large quantities of data about animals’ health, management, productivity and movements. Yet there is currently little consensus on how such data should be used and whom it should benefit. Plausible futures range from ones where data serve commercial, vertically integrated farming systems to ones where animal data are governed through a national data system and used for the public good, as has been implemented in countries like Ireland. This paper uses the case of sheep farming in Britain to ask, what visions do diverse actors in the sector have for data integration and what issues, challenges and tensions arise from these visions? British sheep farming presents a distinctive case for anticipatory analysis because electronic identification (EID) of sheep is mandated but data integration and use aren't yet widespread. Moreover, the sector includes a wide diversity of production systems and actors, from commercial lowland farming to marginal hill farming and small-scale organic production, with pressures to attend to productivity, welfare and the environment. It remains unclear whose visions, values and voices will shape the design and governance of data systems. The paper draws on documentary analysis, focus groups and interviews with actors across the British sheep industry. Based on this research, the paper proposes several principles for the responsible development of national livestock data systems that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of diverse communities.

Traditional Open Panel P210
Digital technologies in food and agriculture: merging STS with Critical Agrifood Studies
  Session 3 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -