REDUCING electronic sheep EID costs would not lead NSW Farmers to reconsider its opposition to mandatory tag use, association president Derek Schoen said.
The NSW Farmers leader on Monday warned Victorians not to spend money on a system he believed could spell chaos for cross border sheep trade and decimate Victoria’s processing industry.
Mr Schoen’s comments followed a Victorian Auditor-General’s report last week calling on the State Government to finalise plans for an electronic traceability system for sheep and goats.
Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford also recently invited other states to participate in tenders for batches of 400,000 and 10 million EID sheep tags to drive costs down “and to test what the price might be if the tagging was mandatory”.
But Mr Schoen said NSW Farmers’ opposition to mandatory EID tags was not just due to their price compared to visual tags.
“It’s the whole implementation of RFID (radio frequency identification) in the sheep industry; your saleyards with (tag) reading and property-to-property transfers, stuff like that,” Mr Schoen said.
“With cattle there are a lot less numbers involved.”
Reading thousands of electronic tags “an impossibility’
Mr Schoen said the reading of electronic tags at a small saleyard like Corowa yarding 19,000 lambs, would be “an impossibility”. He also discounted any resourcing or subsidising of the industry to facilitate a changeover to EID tags for sheep and goats.
“You are not talking of the same class of animals – cattle are much easier to manage in that sort of reading environment — with sheep it will just be a logistical nightmare.
“They really don’t know the can of worms they are opening,” he said.
Mr Schoen said a mandatory requirement for RFID tags in Victoria would eliminate the state’s processors from sourcing interstate stock carrying visual tags, with buyers already reluctant to buy daggy lambs let alone consider re-tagging purchases.
“If Victoria continues on this way and they go it alone, it will decimate their processing industry because so much of their stock come from interstate.
“It will have a major effect on the Victorian processing industry.”
Victorian Government’s ‘announcement-by-stealth’
Referring to the Auditor-General report, the NSW Farmers said the Victorian Government appeared to make an ‘announcement-by-stealth’ last week that would force sheep farmers to electronically tag their animals. But the Victorian Farmers Federation is also opposed to mandating electronic tag use in sheep and goats.
A go-it-alone Victorian system could spell chaos for Victoria, as it had in Europe when it was implemented there, Mr Schoen said.
“Cross-border trade would be affected and Victoria may well find it experiences market shortages,” he said.
Victoria ‘lagging behind’ in NLIS compliance
The Victorian Auditor-General report ‘Biosecurity: Livestock’ last week said the state had experienced a significant decline in livestock surveillance activities of 39 percent between 2011-12 and 2014-15, in line with the cuts to core front-line staff. It also said a State Government review found that for 41pc of tags collected from sheep at slaughter there was no record of the tag’s property identification code (PIC) on accompanying paperwork. Also for 31pc of PICs listed on paperwork, there was no record of the PIC being on tags and 25pc of PICs handwritten on paperwork had been incorrectly transcribed.
Mr Schoen said that while Victoria did have serious gaps in its system, a mandatory electronic radio-frequency identification (eRFID) program was not the answer.
“The Victorian Government should be addressing the real issues such as fully implementing the existing system and ensuring that farmers understand how to fill in their National Vendor Declarations (NVDs).
“They want the rest of Australia to pick up the mess they’ve generated themselves.”
NSW NVD compliance at 98pc in 2013
Mr Schoen said NSW Farmers did not think there was anything wrong with the current system.
“Compliance in NSW is well above 90 percent which is robust for biosecurity.”
National Vendor Declaration accuracy improved to around 98 percent in some saleyards in NSW during compliance activity conducted in 2013, NSW Farmers said.
“The Victorians would be far better off in putting their energies into trying to get their current lack of compliance up to speed, because that is where the problem lies.
“Most of the other states have come up to speed, Victoria is lagging behind and that is the major problem in the whole scheme of things,” he said.
“If the Victorians are looking for a new system, they need only look across the border.”
“An electronic tag does not guarantee a more robust biosecurity system – as every IT geek will tell you: if you don’t put the correct information in, you are not likely to get the correct information out; garbage in, garbage out.”