Export Lamb

Exporters set to take lead role in national electronic identification of sheep

Terry Sim November 14, 2016
Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford has promised Victorian farmers 'cost neutral' electronic sheep tags.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford.

A NATIONAL electronic identification system for sheep and goats in Australia could be driven by export meat processors meeting overseas customer traceability demands, saleyard operators and agents heard last week.

Victorian processors at a sheep EID saleyard operators’ workshop near Ballarat last Friday said they might eventually only buy sheep and lambs with electronic tags.

They also said Victoria’s sheep and lamb industry should aim for an electronic scanning compliance rate higher than the 80 percent “action level” required under new state government standards.

Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association director Warren Clark said processors should drive Victoria’s move into mandatory electronic tagging of sheep and goats towards development of a national EID system.

“That’s what they (the processors) need to do,” Mr Clark said after the Mt Helen workshop.

“It needs to come from the processors and (JBS southern livestock manager) Steve Chapman said today that he is going to drive it – he is going to get to the stage where he is not going to bid on lambs that haven’t got electronic tags,” Mr Clark said.

“We’ve said all along, make it a national system, make it a uniform national system.

“Initially, you had to think that it wasn’t going to happen, but you’ve got to have your head in the sand now to think that it’s not going to happen,” he said.

“Get the technology right, get it up and running, get it Mickey Mouse and go from there.”

“If they want biosecurity and traceability, it has got to be national,” he said.

Mr Clark recognised that initially interstate sheep and lambs would not need to have electronic tags when sold in Victoria, but traceability “falls apart” when some are not electronically tagged and processors might eventually require electronic tags in all stock sold in the state.

“What you are going to find is – we sell South Australian lambs in Hamilton – you are going to get your exporters who are going to come and buy a pen of SA lambs from LMB and come to Warren Clark and buy a pen of Hamilton-bred lambs, and they are going to box them all together.”

Processors told the workshop Victoria’s sheep and lamb industry should aim for higher scanning compliance standards for electronically-tagged livestock than required by the state government.

Victoria’s Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford last week said a compliance rate or ‘action level’ of 80 percent of EID-tagged stock being sold or accepted at abattoirs would be required by the end of March 2018 as the state transitions to mandatory electronic identification for sheep and goats.

$17 million package is inadequate

At the workshop, Ms Pulford announced a package of $17 million to help the industry transition to mandatory electronic tagging, with all sheep and goats in the state to have an electronic ear tag by 2022.

However, Mr Clark said the $17 million support package was “nowhere near” what would be required for the EID transition, considering $7.7 million was allocated to the producer tag subsidy.

“You are going to need at least $10-$15 million (for the saleyards),” Hamilton stock agent Michael Kerr said.

“We want enough to set the saleyards up properly – we don’t know what we want,” Mr Clark said.

Mr Clark said agents were told they should be scanning sheep and lambs in vendor lots, but would not need to scan again if they went to slaughter, because they would be scanned off the truck at abattoirs.

“The only ones we scan (after sale) is property to property – so if a store buyer buys them we will scan them out again.”

Sale lots must scan at 80pc to be sold

Ms Pulford confirmed that after March 2018 the 80pc compliance requirement meant that 8 out of every 10 electronically-tagged sheep, lambs or goats in a sale lot must be able to be scanned to be sold. But the government was “not going to be ridiculous” about the compliance requirement, she said.

“We want everybody scanning and up and running – all systems ready to go – on the first of July 2017, but then there will be a nine-month period for everybody to iron out the tweaks (and get compliance to 80pc).

“Yes it will be fantastic to have 80pc compliance or even 100pc on day one, but we need to bring everybody along, it’s a big change.”

80pc tag compliance rate ‘unacceptable’

Mr Chapman said an 80pc tag scanning compliance rate is not acceptable.

“It’s not the hardware or the software, we’ve heard that, it’s just the process – it can happen, the reads are there, we can do 98pc no problem.

“80 percent is not acceptable – we know we can achieve 98pc, so let’s aim for that straight away.”

Mr Chapman said he expected processors would eventually not buy Victorian sheep and lambs unless they carried an electronic tag.

“But that’s not in the near future, that’s two or three years down the track.”

Mr Chapman said better traceability from electronic tagging of stock would not necessarily generate more markets for Australian sheep and lambs, but more customers within markets.

“It’s access to particular customers within those markets who have a higher preference for traceability and a big emphasis on traceability and animal welfare, that’s the key.

“And they are growing by the day,” he said.

“The way we do that is reinforcing the integrity of the product – if someone wants to buy a Big Mac and you continually serve them cheeseburgers, you’ve got issues.”

Overseas customers will apply pressure to remaining states

Australian Lamb Company livestock manager Ben Verrall said there should be a national approach to electronic identification of sheep and goats “and that Victoria’s now has the chance to lead the way to show that this is possible and then every other state will fall in line behind us.”

“Victorian processors will be able to have traceability and then the customer base around the world will be going to the likes of South Australia and New South Wales and saying ‘well why haven’t you got it?’, we think you need to get it,” he said.

Mr Verrall said by 2019 he expected ALC would be preferentially buying EID-tagged lambs.

“In a couple of years we will be.”

He believed that anyone selling stock in saleyards where Victorian processors are buying would “best served” by making sure their sheep and lambs have an electronic tag. Victorian processors will have to split their interstate purchases between EID and visually-tagged stock for traceability, he said.

“We’ll be ready for it next year.”

He expected processors meeting customer demands for traceability to have a role in national acceptance of EID, but industry appreciation of the production and management benefits of IED would also play a role. Mr Verrall said Donald Trump’s election as US president might also be a factor.

“He’s about protection of his country and food security is one of them.

“If we can’t tell our customer base where it has come from, these questions are going to be asked.”

By January 1 2019 all sheep and goats introduced from interstate into Victoria and born after January 1 2017 must be electronically tagged before leaving a Victorian property (including showgrounds).

By January 1, 2022, all sheep and goats regardless of age must be electronically tagged before leaving the property on which they are located.

VFF wants tag subsidy to extend to five years

Ms Pulford said producers will be able to buy electronic tags subsidised to a price of 35 cents in the first year of the transition, funded by $7.7 million from the total $17 million package.

When asked if one year of subsidised tags would be adequate, Ms Pulford said she needed to wait on the outcome of the new tag tender for 10 million tags. Agriculture Victoria would not be able to confirm the subsidised 2018-19 electronic tag price until next year, she said.

“But I’m acutely aware of the need for this transition to be as smooth for everybody involved as possible.

“We’ve certainly talked to industry about (tag) price point and the period of time over which the transition should be supported in that way, but I’m only in position to give you the year one figure right now, because that tender is a really important part of the puzzle.”

To avoid over-ordering of the 35 cent electronic tags online in the first year of the transition, Ms Pulford said producers would need to indicate the number of tags they purchased in the previous year, allowing for an increase of up to 10 percent.

Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said the VFF wanted the tag subsidy to be available for five years, but the Victorian Government had not committed to this.

“They don’t know what the tender price will be and that’s critical as to how much of the money is going to be used up and how much it is going to last.

“It will be longer than a year; it is almost a physical impossibility to use it all up in a year anyway.”

Some saleyards to be fast-tracked

Victorian Sheep and Goat Identification Advisory Committee chairman, Stuart McLean, said there would be no trial of electronic tagging systems in a specific saleyard, but he was hoping to fast-track implementation in a few saleyards.

But he said there will be money available for saleyards in phase one of the implementation of the transition program to bring in experts to design their equipment and system needs, and develop a business case to meet the required standards.

“Secondly they will apply for the infrastructure and hopefully we will get them off and running.

“The money that we could spend on a trial, we want to spend on actual implementation,” he said.

“We are not actually going to do trials, we are going to implement.”

Mr McLean believed the 80pc compliance rate or action level was achievable.

“In fact, it is a soft landing in some respects – there was even some criticism this morning as to why isn’t it higher?

“If in fact, the read rates are quite high, up in the 90s and it is looking really good, by that 2018 date — and most of the yards will all be reading by then we hope — this committee would probably look at it and suggest that we push that action level up a bit, so that we can actually meet the national standard that’s agreed by all ag ministers across Australia, is a 95-98 percent compliance,” he said.

In October 2014, all states and territories agreed to make improvements either by enhancing the current mob based system or by introducing EID, based on analysis of the initial traceability and implementation costs in their jurisdiction. The states agreed to achieve 98pc short-run traceability and 95pc long-run traceability through ongoing monitoring, with business rules being reviewed to ensure performance standards are met.

“That’s where we need to get to and it was explained this morning that the 80pc will have some variation in a lot when we have sheep coming in from interstate – if a farmer buys store lambs and he puts them with his own – and he has 100 in a lot, 50 are not tagged (the interstate sheep), then the action level is 80pc on the electronically tagged sheep,” Mr McLean said.

Interstate sheep and lambs coming into Victoria would not be discriminated against in the Victorian EID transition process, Mr McLean said, but he hoped a national approach on electronic tagging of sheep and goats would be reached “sooner than later”.

Exporters could also market ‘98pc EID compliant’ product a lot easier than lamb or mutton with an 80pc traceability compliance, he said.

“At the moment this is where we’ve landed and hopefully we will move on.

“I think there will be pressure from the industry to slowly lift that bar up to make sure that what they’re buying is actually consistent with the national standards.”

Interstate EID tag users might have an advantage

Agriculture Victoria’s director of Market Access and Reform Warren Straw, said despite claims of poor engagement from stock agents during the Victorian transition program’s consultation process. He and Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Charles Milne spent time with agents at the Hamilton and Wagga saleyards, and agents attended most of the 56 industry meetings.

If not consulting means we didn’t tell them before the Minister had made it, then we didn’t consult, but no-one got it before the Minister made the decision.

“The agents made the comment that they were an after-thought, they were not an after-thought they were on the (workshop) invitation from day one.”

Mr Straw said agents have got to accept that the electronic identification of sheep and goats in Victoria “is coming, it’s real.”

“A lot of this morning was still about – you shouldn’t have, it’s wrong, it’s the wrong decision, we don’t need it, it’s not national.

“We’ve been there, we’ve listened, the Minister has made a call and I think it is the right call,” he said.

“But at the end of the day I think we’ve got most people walking out of that room accepting the fact that it actually is coming, it’s real, we probably need it and even more importantly, we actually can do it and we’ve got a bit of time.

“They are thinking implementation, though it doesn’t mean everyone is happy.”

Mr Straw said processors told the workshop “we want to buy sheep with (EID) tags.”

“And (they said) if we go to New South Wales, we might at some point be buying only sheep from New South Wales with (EID) tags.”

Interstate voluntary EID tag users might find they have a market edge, he said.

“If saleyards are going to continue to remain relevant – they’ve got 25pc or so of the sheep that go through the Australian Lamb Company and JBS at the moment – they’re going to have to provide traceability.”


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


  1. Robin Steen, November 14, 2016

    If this is to happen, then do it nationally with tested technology. Victoria has never given the previous tagging system a fair go to work, as private sales were never mandatory as they are in South Australia. Hence they struggled for 14 days to locate the required sheep under the Sheepcatcher II program.
    Are we going over the top with all this traceability, when the USA has no tagging/traceability system in place and from my information never will have?
    Australia’s biggest problem is there is nothing national; it’s different in every state and therefore extemely expensive and confusing.

Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -