MANDATORY sheep National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) in WA is expected to come into force next month - five months after the preliminary deadline has passed.
The original deadline was January 1, 2006. That was then changed to June 31, 2006.
While it is presently a requirement for WA sheep producers to correctly tag their stock, those who do not comply cannot be prosecuted - until the legislation is passed.
The legislation is in the process of being drafted and re-drafted by the Parliamentary council and Agriculture Department.
Agriculture Department NLIS coordinator Farron Dixon said the draft legislation was currently in the hands of the Agriculture Department.
Mr Dixon expected NLIS to become mandatory before the end of July this year.
It is currently compulsory for live export sheep to be identified with a tag to the last property of residence.
It was not until this year that the eastern states brought in tagging requirements, and that only applies for sheep born after January 1.
Mr Dixon said while every WA sheep would have a tag depicting where it came from, electronic tagging was the ultimate system.
He said the cattle system was working well, and hoped sheep would follow suit.
"We're not pretending that the new system will be the Rolls Royce system," Mr Dixon said.
"Ultimately electronic tagging is the way to go."
Agriculture Department NLIS sheep executive officer Julian Gardner said 90pc of WA lamb producers already tagged their sheep.
The only thing that WA producers would need to change when the legislation came in was to tag their stock with pink tags before they were sold.
Mr Gardner said the department was already encouraging producers to pink tag their stock.
He could not see an electronic NLIS system coming into place in the foreseeable future.
There would be problems getting the correct infrastructure in place, he said.
The eastern states were still working on implementing the first step of traceability.
NSW Farmers Association sheep meat committee chairman Chris Groves, said it was imperative the process for sheep identification be driven by the market and not government regulation.
He said while it was inevitable there would still be some antagonism towards the system from some producers, they were not bound by regulation to tag and could still sell direct to slaughter if they wished to.
"But there are an awful lot of lambs being tagged," Mr Groves said.
"I think it's safe to say producers have grasped the system and are running with it because they realise the need for traceability."
The association believes the cost of electronic tagging of sheep could drive lamb producers out of the industry.
Mr Groves said it was premature to call for the implementation of electronic tags when the current visually based system had only just been put in place.
"At present the Sheep CRC is undertaking the trials of electronic tag technology which it believes won't even be suitable technology for sheep until at least 2011," he said.
The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) supports sheep NLIS as a means of ensuring product integrity.
AMIC National Export Sheep, Lamb and Goat Council chairman Roger Fletcher said AMIC customers were looking for a means to underpin their products and protect their brands.
"Customers must have assurance that the brands they purchase are safe and that any problems can be identified and excluded from the supply chain," Mr Fletcher said.
"Australia's competitive advantage rests with its ability to provide these assurances."