IMPLEMENTATION of the National Livestock Identification Scheme in WA could begin in July 2003 and become mandatory by 2005.
The cost to producers would be about $2-$3 million.
The cattle NLIS, which worked through an electronic ear tag or rumen bolus, would help bring WA in line with an increasing global trend for more permanent animal identification systems to guarantee food safety.
WA coordinator Farran Dixon said the State's NLIS implementation working party, consisting of industry sector representatives, wanted registration of calves to start after July 2003 and have a mandatory system in place by 2005.
The white NLIS ear tags, with microchip inside, would be applied to calves before leaving properties after 2003. An orange, post breeder tag would be used for cattle born after that date from 2005.
Producers could get carcase information back from the national database helping better herd management.
Hand held receiver devices were available to identify cattle.
The NLIS was expected to do away with tail tags but national vendor declaration forms would still be required.
It is unclear at this stage whether each state would decide on exemptions, such as when cattle went straight to slaughter or live export cattle went directly to ships.
Geraldton-based Agriculture Department live export development manager Bob Nickels said the system would have limited value to the live export trade, which accounted for 44pc of WA's cattle turnoff.
"People up north are going to refuse to put the system in," he said.
Mr Dixon said that when the system was in place, he did not believe many WA producers would have to use the tags costing about $3.50 in eastern Australia.
The ceramic boluses, also with microchip inside, cost about $5.80, although this could decrease if a way was found to recycle them.
Ordinary ear tags would be used to indicate cattle with a bolus (that will come with an ear tags), and it was likely station cattle would have to have another ear tag in addition to the NLIS ear tag for visual identification.
The NLIS ear tag would be placed on the inside of the right ear.
Mr Dixon said that in cases of residue detection or exotic disease outbreak, the NLIS would help Australian respond quickly to protect markets because it make stock easier to trace.
"It is better to have the infrastructure in place. The data base will tell you anything about an NLIS animal," he said.
"We need to be prepared to respond immediately, and if you can't do that you are going to loose markets."
He said the system would have limited application until electronic readers were installed at saleyards and abattoirs.
It would cost $25,000 to install the equipment at saleyards and $100,000 at EG Greens, he said.
Mr Dixon said saleyards and abattoirs would be reluctant to install equipment before it had proved itself, which couldn't be done until the system was installed.
"It's a chicken and egg situation," he said.
"Do we subsidise a system for the saleyards and abattoirs."
MLA NLIS national manager Rick Beasley said the whole concept of the tag was like a car number plate that stayed with the vehicle when sold.
He said that while tail tags only indicated the cattle's last property the NLIS would provide the first and last property.
Mr Beasley said the scheme had initially been introduced in eastern Australia because producers supplied product to the European Union.
He said that market was now providing premiums of up to 80c/kg on other cattle.
He said trials indicated a 1pc loss rate for the NLIS tag.
Mr Beasley said Japan had just completed a program to identify cattle and would undoubtedly start asking for the same from imported cattle sooner than later.
He said the US did not have such a scheme but could still ask Australia to implement the system.
Wanna station owner Bill Radford, who has 4000 breeders, estimated it would cost him $32,000 over three years to implement.
He was concerned the white ear tags would not last due to the UV effect on the pin inside.
The NLIS, which worked on radio frequencies, would be the first electronic system in the world.
NLIS will be run by Safemeat, a partnership of industry and government.