DEBATE about the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) for cattle reached fever pitch this week, when supporters challenged a Farm Weekly report that the existing traceback system was adequate.
New Norcia cattle producer and state NLIS implementation working group member Graham Nixon said speed was a key to contain an exotic disease outbreak such as Foot and Mouth Disease.
He said though WA had a reasonably good cattle tracing system through waybills and tail tags, it was not adequate for multiple transactions.
Mr Nixon said it could take weeks to go through agentsí records and track down cattle which had come through saleyards where contact with other animals could have caused more infected properties.
The UK passport traceback system had proved ineffective in controlling FMD.
He said the aim of proposed electronic NLIS was to trace the source of a disease within 48 hours.
Mr Nixon said the NLIS working group had designed a lifetime traceability system with least change and minimal cost to producers.
He said WA producers would not pay reading fees because $1 million was allocated to install NLIS readers in saleyards, live export depots and abattoirs.
"In the short term the industry has agreed that in return for this financial assistance there will be no reading fees," he said.
He said NLIS tags would not be required for cattle going direct to live export yards and abattoirs, which accounted for 50pc-70pc of WA cattle movements.
Mr Nixon said NLIS tags only had to be applied in WA when cattle left a property, which destroyed an Australian Beef Association NLIS cost analysis that included extra handling and weight loss through extra mustering.
He said most pastoral cattle in WA were shipped live and therefore only required conventional transaction ear tags already widely used by pastoralists.
ìThe key objective is whole-of-life traceability,î he said.
"We are only using individual ID in the area of multiple transactions because itís the only way we can overcome our weakness but in the areas of direct deliveries you do not need individual ID.
"If WA can demonstrate it has a whole-of-life traceability system that works, then markets will be satisfied the system works and will not be talking about individual ID.î
He said NLIS could stop WA getting a disease if it was detected in eastern Australia and isolated before it reached WA.
Mr Nixon said under a cost-sharing agreement, Federal and State governments would each pay 40pc and industry 20pc of the cost of an FMD outbreak.
He said if only one state got FMD, other states would still have to contribute to the 40pc through increased transaction fees.
"We have got a strong vested interest to make sure Queensland put their house in order as much as we do ours," he said.
"So I have great difficulty with the way ABA is behaving in Queensland because I can see it potentially threatening our financial well-being in this state."
He said the people opposed to NLIS would be the strongest critics if something went wrong.
Agriculture Department veterinary officer Bradley McCormick said the case of BSE in the US was found in one of 80 heifers imported from Canada.
He said the US could only trace 28 of the 80 heifers and could not say it had the situation under control.
Dandaragan producer and working group member David Roberts said a case of anthrax was detected in Victoria a few months ago and it only took 40 minutes to trace the other animals through the NLIS system.
He said the Federal Government had rejected a request to match the state contributions to NLIS.
There is a $1 subsidy on NLIS electronic ear tags in WA which vary in price according to make. Companies selling the devices can deduct the subsidy from the price of the ear tag.
Legislation is being prepared for implementation from July.