A MAJOR livestock tag manufacturer believes a national electronic identification system for sheep and goats could be quickly costed without an expensive inquiry or consultation process.
Leader Products director Bruce Dumbrell believes the information to quickly cost a national electronic identification system for sheep and goats is readily available, without holding an expensive inquiry or consultation process.
Sheep Producers Australia this week called for a Federal Government decision on conducting a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement process to fully assess the impact of key livestock traceability recommendations to provide a fully costed decision paper to the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum AGMIN.
The recommendations supported by SPA from an NLIS (Sheep & Goats) Traceability Evaluation and presented by SAFEMEAT to the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) in March 2020 are:
- the establishment of a regulatory or statutory entity responsible for managing Australian livestock traceability,
- investment into a database capable of handling all FMD susceptible livestock species,
- mandating individual digital/electronic identification of livestock,
- creating an equitable funding arrangement for both the establishment and ongoing maintenance of the system and,
- that a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement be conducted to fully assess the impact of these recommendations to provide a fully costed decision paper to AGMIN.
Mr Dumbrell said he did not know the exact cost to establish the infrastructure of the mandatory sheep and goat EID system in Victoria, where tags were subsidised for producers, but he said the cost of unsubsidised electronic tags in a potential national system was easily calculated.
He estimates the cost of unsubsidised electronic tags for producers under a national system for sheep and goats would be $1 per tag more than the current visual tag cost.
In Victoria, electronic sheep and goat tags with an unsubsidised value of about $1.30 are sold online to producers for about 90 cents.
Mr Dumbrell said electronic sheep tags were sold to producers in other states, where EID is not mandatory, for $1.30-$1.40, and visual tags were around 40 cents each.
“They are talking about $1 a head extra over the life of the animal and what the farmer has to work out is, can he get $1 extra value out of it over the 6-7 years they have that sheep.”
He said it would be “pretty simple” to determine the infrastructure cost of a sheep EID system in each state by basing estimations on the costs in Victoria relative to saleyard and abattoir numbers.
“The exercise I would have thought is pretty simple, ‘you ring Agriculture Victoria and ask how much did it cost in Victoria.’
“You don’t need a full inquiry into it, the information is already there because they have done it in Victoria,” he said.
“New South Wales would cost about the same as Victoria, Queensland would be a quarter of that, South Australia would be about a third of Victoria’s cost, Tasmania would be less than SA and Western Australia won’t do it.
“You would do it on the back of an envelope in an hour.”
Whereas the cost of a $1.30 tag is now less than three percent of the value of $150 lamb or ewe, Mr Dumbrell remembers when sheep prices were so low that farmers shooting sheep asked Leader if they would buy their tags, “because the tag was worth more than the sheep.”
Mr Dumbrell said he was not trying to push the industry toward an electronic tag based system.
“I just find it frustrating that people can’t work this out without a full inquiry.
“It’s being done in Victoria, it’s not a pipe dream, it is happening and currently running, and they know how much it costs.”
Mr Dumbrell said it might only cost another 20 cents per animal in the slaughter levy to cover the cost of the infrastructure for a national sheep and goat EID system. He said the entire cattle EID system cost about $20 million.
“The cost to the industry if Foot and Mouth Disease got in here would be in the billions (of dollars) and you are talking for the whole sheep industry less than $80 million (based on what was spent in Victoria).”
The infrastructure for Victoria’s mandatory sheep and goat EID system, including $7 million for subsidised tags, equipment grants for producers, processors and saleyards, and some research and development funding, was about $21 million.
Mr Dumbrell also queried the need for a new regulatory or statutory entity responsible for managing Australian livestock traceability.
“Isn’t that what the Integrity Systems Company does?”
SPA CEO explains need for RIS consultation
SPA chief executive officer Stephen Crisp agreed it would be simple to do costing calculations with tag prices and utilising Victorian sheep EID system costs.
“The issue is that states do run on different systems and a lot of the time Victoria is viewed as being subsidised in certain areas, which they have done, and there is a certain fuzziness to what the costs are.
“Whether that is truth or reality, the view is that you need to have that over-arching trusted cost calculation process with all the implications for the different states factored in … that’s the only way we are going to get a trusted result and we can move on.”
Mr Crisp said agreement would only come after every state had the opportunity to make a submission through the RIS process.
“That’s the key part,” he said.
“If you asked anyone, everyone agrees that a national system would be more efficient, but you’ve always got the argument about what that should look like.
“Most of the states are in that situation of considering what the best option is, the don’t want to dismiss it (a national system), but they certainly don’t want to accept it as the best option until they see the data and that analysis.”
Mr Crisp agreed that determining n equitable cost sharing between producers, the trade and governments would “be a big chunk of it, but we are just not there yet.”
“We’ve got to agree on what we want, the outcome we want, and then how that break-up would look … there’s a lot of water to go under that bridge.”
Mr Crisp said the ISC operated under each state system.
“And they have I suppose the handbrake applied on what data bases they have available and how they are able to use those data bases and how they are used into the different systems that inform our traceability systems.”
He said the need for a separate regulatory or statutory entity responsible for managing livestock traceability nationally was more to do with having a single entity that the ISC interacted with.
Victoria’s sheep EID system costs are available
Chair of Victoria’s Sheep and Goats Identification Advisory Committee Stuart McLean said all the information on the costs, transition and roll-out of the Victorian mandatory EID system for sheep and goats is available to any state that wants it “free of charge.”
“If they want it, we are more than happy to disseminate it to them.”
Mr McLean did not think there would be many issues with moving toward a national sheep EID system.
“It has always been Victoria’s aim to have a national system.
“The current national business rules accommodate a national electronic system as well,” he said.
“So the real change for a lot of organisations is to move the word voluntary out of the business rules for electronic tags and call it mandatory, and move on.”
He said the sheep EID database within the ISC needed further functionality and might need upgrading for a national system.
“A fully integrated independent entity would be a great move.”
Mr McLean said the issues in gaining agreement on a national sheep and goat EID system might include implementation costs at a producer level, “because that’s where the bulk of the push-back has been coming from.”
He supported a financial impact assessment approach to the issue, but the recommended consultation Regulatory Impact Statement process might allay any political opposition.
“If all the states are going to sign onto it, and some of them are really keen to go now, my view would probably be that they are probably going to try to convince the whole of the industry that this is the way to go.
“The AGMIN process is where the state agriculture ministers across the nation will come to an agreement and they will implement it,” Mr McLean said.
“The difficulty with this is that most of these systems come under state jurisdictions and the jurisdictional variations in timing and budgets will vary, and their capabilities will probably vary.”
Mr McLean believed that most of the Chief Veterinary officers in the states supported a better traceability system for sheep and goats.
“So I don’t think there will be much politics … I think the politics will only exist at the grassroots level and that’s where it was in Victoria.”
The Sheep and Goats Identification Advisory Committee supported a national EID system for sheep and goats from the perspectives of biosecurity risk, global marketing access and for managing stock movement across borders, Mr McLean said.
“The COVID has been a good example of how while a state has to manage its affairs, food security across the nation had to deal with these cross-border issues.
“I think the smartest thing would be to have a national system,” he said.
“If we had have had an incursion of an exotic livestock disease while all this was happening, it would put us in quite a difficult position.”
Mr McLean said one of the biggest issues that arose with establishing the Victorian sheep EID system was the cost of tags.
“Victoria already had a levy system operating, so it was able to help subsidise the cost of tags and the government kicked in as well.”
Victoria has invited other states several times to be part of a national electronic tag tender to get a better price for producers nationally, but all states had declined to participate, he said.