THE situation around electronic identification (EID) for sheep and goats appears to be more about when and how, not if it will happen.
Sheep producers across NSW have made it clear they don’t want mandatory EID.
They expressed confidence in the current mob-based system backed by the NSW Department of Primary Industry’s Operation Shepherd in 2011, which showed high levels of compliance.
However, fragmentation of traceability between States remains, with some systems far from achieving agreed timeframes of locating animals in the event of an outbreak of a rapid-spread disease, such as foot and mouth.
In South Australia, for instance, there is a two-day database notification period for animals associated with shows or live exports.
This exceeds the 24-hour traceability time mentioned in ABARES’ consultation regulatory impact statement report, Implementation of improvements to the National Livestock Identification System for sheep and goats released in October.
ABARES found most State and territory agencies agreed the desired level of traceability for sheep and goats was 98 per cent for short-run tracing and current NLIS for sheep and goats did not meet National Livestock Traceability Performance standards.
While cost-benefit work has been done to justify EID for improved traceability in the event of an outbreak, nobody has been able to justify the high cost of a tag in relation to the average value of sheep.
The ABARES report estimates an EID system for sheep and goats would cost the industry $29.4 million a year with a tag cost of $1.30 a head.
Meanwhile, producer experience with cattle EID has shown little tangible benefit for sheep and goat producers to seriously consider it.
Despite producer cynicism, the ducks are being aligned to grow the breadth of NLIS, and perhaps with it the introduction of more widely used EID.
In October, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) said it was in negotiations with Animal Health Australia (AHA) to hand over control of the national database.
A statement from MLA said transferring the database to AHA would enable the system to expand across more areas of agriculture for biosecurity traceability purposes.
Whether producers like it or not, the battle lines on EID for sheep are being drawn and a showdown is on the horizon.