FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran has called for the Sheep National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) review to be held earlier than 2008 to address legitimate concerns regarding exemptions.
"I am aware some sectors of the industry remain opposed to tag exemptions and I call on industry to bring forward the review of the system following the first selling season in 2007, rather than waiting the proposed period of two years," Mr McGauran said.
"The review must look at the effectiveness of the traceability scheme and address any evidence of market distortion associated with the 'over the hooks exemptions for lambs.
"The results of the review can then be used to inform any decision on the future of tag exemptions."
The Federal Government will provide $2 million to help the sheep industry implement the system.
Mr McGauran said the NLIS Sheep Management Committee and the Federal Agriculture Department were finalising the specific allocation details.
Australian Beef Association (ABA) vice chairman Brad Bellinger said Mr McGauran's call to bring forward the review illustrated how easily the minister was manipulated by lobby groups.
"The minister said he is addressing concerns of the Livestock and Property Agents Association that they could lose commission on sales from producers sending their sheep direct to works, in order to avoid tagging and participating in this ridiculous scheme," Mr Bellinger said.
"NLIS for sheep is basically about money and nothing to do with market access or disease containment.
"Rather than placating groups opposed to exemptions, perhaps the minister might look at placating the largest group, the majority of sheep producers who are against the scheme entirely."
Mr Bellinger said producers should be left with no doubt Mr McGauran was one of the main driving forces behind sheep NLIS madness.
"Despite the fact that no market has asked for a tag and this flock based identification offers nothing more than our current registered earmark and NVD, the minister is intent on burdening sheep producers with more costs," he said.
"Issues such as a minimum 10pc of cattle being processed, not being correctly cancelled off the NLIS database, should be addressed before embarking on a sheep NLIS fiasco.
"AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) is so concerned about the diminished traceability under the cattle NLIS they are urging the continuation of tailtags, to ensure product integrity for our customers."
But the Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association (ALPA) claimed bringing the Sheep NLIS review forward to 2007 was not soon enough.
ALPA chief executive officer Andy Madigan said ALPA, processors AMIC and other industry sectors, believed exemption concerns had to be addressed before implementation of the scheme on January 1.
"ALPA members including Elders and Landmark and private livestock agencies right across Australia have always strongly supported the introduction of a simple, cost-effective, transparent and fully traceable scheme that would meet all state, national and international requirements," Mr Madigan said.
"Australia, and in particular our sheep producers who benefit from income derived from exports, simply cannot afford to risk any tainting of our reputation which would no doubt result in the loss of valuable export markets and subsequently impact on the viability of the Australian sheepmeat industry.
"It is both alarming and incomprehensible that the NLIS for sheep may be implemented with tagging exemptions, in particular for lambs sold directly to meatworks.
"If the organisations or individuals supporting the selling of untagged lambs going direct to slaughter can unreservedly guarantee that they will never get boxed during transportation, be involved in a truck rollover or get boxed at an abattoir, then please give everyone else involved in this $2 billion a year industry that assurance.
"At the same time inform us how the proposed exemption will trace these animals accurately back to their property of origin."
Mr Madigan said a mandatory tagging scheme with the producer's PIC number on it would guarantee trace back within hours.
"A system that contains so-called benefits to selected sections of the sheep industry is ultimately a system to which we are unable to give our support," he said.
"By allowing exemptions and not adopting a national colour coding tagging system to year of birth, the result will be a scheme that is discriminatory, flawed and potentially dangerous.
"Based on recent correspondence we know the preferred South Australian, NSW and WA position has always been for no exemptions."
Mr Madigan said ALPA was also extremely concerned about the lack of uniformity between states in what was supposed to be a national scheme.
"Given that we are now less than six weeks away from proposed implementation, agents, processors, livestock exporters, saleyards and transporters strongly believe that all states and the Sheepmeat Council should reconsider the issues," he said.
"That way we can emerge with a truly national scheme which offers no exemptions, one colour tag system and is therefore fully effective in serving the purposes for which it is being introduced.