A NATIONAL decision on electronic identification of sheep and goats has been put off for at least three years, despite Australia’s Sheepcatcher II exercise showing traceability performance standards are not being met with the current mob-based system.
The Sheepcatcher II report by Animal Health Australia released by SAFEMEAT yesterday said that in its current form, the National Livestock Identification System for sheep and goats is unlikely to provide optimum support for an effective response in a real ‘whole of life’ infectious disease outbreak.
However, rather than follow Victoria’s initiative, and the cattle industry, in pursuing national mandatory livestock EID, the SAFEMEAT Partners have seized upon the improvements in NLIS compliance since 2007 to seek renewed enhancement of the visual tag mob-based sheep and goat system.
Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive officer Dr Kathleen Giles said Sheepcatcher II had achieved its objective of evaluating the NLIS for sheep and goats to identify areas where the system could be improved.
“The exercise demonstrated improvement against the NLTPS since the first Sheepcatcher exercise, but in some areas the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards are still not being met.
“With the recommendations now reviewed by SAFEMEAT, both industry and government are now focused on implementing a strong response to the major areas where improvements are required,” she said.
The improvements to the NLIS S&G will include increased auditing, communications, and research and development, Dr Giles said.
The SAFEMEAT Partners have also recommended that an interim tracing exercise be conducted in 2020 to assess the mob-based and EID components of the national traceability system, and the improvements to the current visual system implemented following Sheepcatcher II.
NLIS failed against short and long-term traceability standards
In the Sheepcatcher II exercise held last year, although traceability performance improved since the Sheepcatcher I exercise in 2007, the NLIS for sheep and goats generally failed against benchmarks set by the Agricultural Senior Officials Committee (AGSoc) of 98 percent for short-term traceability and 95pc for long-term traceability.
The exercise showed that within 24 hours of a Chief Veterinary Officer being notified, the locations of 90 percent of specified animals for the last 30 days were traced without verification, but only 77pc were traced with verification, well short of the required AGSoc benchmark of 98pc.
The location of only 40pc of all animals residing with a specified animal for the past 30 days was verified within 24 hours and 50pc of animals were traced without verification, “a long way short” of the required 98pc, the Sheepcatcher II report said.
Within 14 days of a CVO being notified, authorities were able to locate where 85pc of specified animals had been with verification, and 97pc had their lifetime locations trace without verified, regarded as an “encouraging improvement” to the 85pc unverified result in the 2007 Sheepcatcher I exercise. The AGSoc benchmark for this standard was 95pc.
However, the location of only 28pc of susceptible animals that had resided with a specified animal at any time could be verified within 21 days of a CVO being notified, and only 50pc were traced without verification, also well short of the AGSoc benchmark of 95pc.
The main reasons given for the standards not being met were incomplete National Vendor Declarations, lack of government resources for tracing, lack of on-farm NVD storage, difficulty saleyards lines split at slaughter and difficulty tracing cross-border movements.
NLIS sheep and goat provides “a good working framework”
The Sheepcatcher II report said the exercise clearly showed that as a tracing system, NLIS-S&G provides a good working framework for the back-tracing of animals to their property of birth.
“The back-tracing of stock could be improved further with some minor amendments to the system.
“However, as it stands, it requires greater commitment and participation from all stakeholders – industry and government – to support more prompt, efficient and accurate forward tracing of cohorts,” the report said.
“Significant system enhancements still need to be made in order to achieve a robust system that will meet the AgSOC benchmarks stated in their assessment of the 2014 DRIS and the NLTPS.”
The report also said that given the resources needed to track the 60 animals involved in the exercise, and the difficulties associated with promptly and efficiently locating cohorts, consideration must be given to securing the skills and resources to interrogate the NLIS-S&G.
“In its current form (the NLIS-S&G) is unlikely to provide optimum support for an effective response in a real ‘whole of life’ infectious disease outbreak.
“Significant improvements will be achieved with better provision of movement documents, uploading all movement documents to the NLIS database, mandating all movements for recording on the NLIS database and regular tracing activities in each jurisdiction to establish and maintain an adequate resource skill base.”
Non-EID improvements needed
When asked whether SCA should now be supporting the national roll-out of electronic identification for sheep and goats, Dr Giles said there are a number of enhancements outside that of electronic ear tags which are required to improve the system.
“Moving to an electronic system, in isolation, will not provide the necessary improvements required to address the weaknesses identified in SheepCatcher II.
“The SheepCatcher exercise demonstrated that as a tracing system, the NLIS-S&G provides a good working framework for the back-tracing of animals to their last property of residence and property of birth,” she said.
“SAFEMEAT has agreed to make further enhancements to the current system by increasing auditing, communications and R&D.
“The SheepCatcher II report made eighteen recommendations provided by the Project Steering Committee and jurisdictional representatives.
“SAFEMEAT has considered and responded to all of the recommendations in the report,” Dr Giles said.
“Of the 18 recommendations in the report, none suggest that there should be a mandatory rollout of EID.”
Dr Giles said SCA and SAFEMEAT support the further technical, logistical and commercial investigations surrounding individual identification technology so that industry and governments are better placed to consider the feasibility of such a system.
“SAFEMEAT, which is comprised of states and industry, has agreed through the response to the recommendations to improve the mob-based system.
“SAFEMEAT has commenced working with industry, government, sale yard operators, livestock agents and the live export industry on further improvements in the short, medium and longer-term.”
When asked if the SCA is prepared to risk Australia’s biosecurity and market access during the period until another Sheepcatcher exercise is run, Dr Giles said SAFEMEAT is the final decision-making body.
“Based on the report they have determined to support the current system, which as shown through SheepCatcher II, can meet the traceability performance standards.”
Dr Giles also said there had not been any food safety issues identified in the sheep meat industry, which has consistently been above 99.5pc compliance under the National Residue Survey.
Despite assurances that the Sheepcatcher II report would be publicly released, Sheep Central has been directed to remove the link to the full report in the belief it could be damaging to Australia’s reputation in international markets. The full report was released unconditionally to Sheep Central by the Sheepmeat Council of Australia on Tuesday, but on Thursday SAFEMEAT chairman Ross Keane said the full Sheepcatcher II report was never meant to be generally released. The full Sheepcatcher I report was not publicly released.
Click here for the SAFEMEAT Sheepcatcher II response.
Click here for the SAFEMEAT Sheepcatcher II recommendations.
Click here for a Sheepcatcher II report summary.