AUSTRALIA’S National Biosecurity Committee has not finalised options on enhancing sheep traceability despite knowing for more than a year that visual tag-based systems are not meeting performance standards.
A NBC working group, now led by New South Wales Chief Veterinary Officer Sarah Britton, has known since mid-2020 that parts of the National Livestock Identification System using visual sheep tags were not meeting National Traceability Performance Standards.
Victoria is currently the only state with a mandatory electronic tag identification system for sheep and goats, while electronic ID of cattle has been implemented nationally.
A SAFEMEAT traceability evaluation of the NLIS last year found that only 70.08 percent of sheep carrying visual NLIS tags were traceable to their vendor and Property Identification Code location for the previous 30 days. This compared with 99.64pc of sheep with NLIS electronic tags being traceable to their vendor and PIC location for the previous 30 days.
The traceability evaluation ran from March to July 2020 and involved 2723 sheep from seven separate saleyard lines sourced in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia and sent direct to slaughter at three abattoirs. The sheep included some that originated in Western Australia and Tasmania.
National Traceability Performance Standards state that for all Foot and Mouth Disease-susceptible livestock species, within 24 hours of a relevant Chief Veterinary Officer being notified, it must be possible to determine the location(s) where a specified animal was resident during the previous 30 days. FMD-susceptible species include cattle, sheep, goats, and domesticated buffalo, deer, pigs, camels and camelids.
The standards also state that within 24 hours it must be possible to determine the location(s) where all susceptible animals that resided concurrently and/or subsequently on any of the properties on which a specified animal has resided in the past 30 days.
Sheep Central has been able to obtain only the executive summary of the traceability evaluation report that said “these results demonstrate that electronically identified sheep can be traced with greater efficiency and accuracy than visually identified sheep.” Sheep Central has been told that access to the traceability evaluation, to a SAFEMEAT report for the NBC, ‘Reforming Australia’s Livestock Traceability System’ and to a report titled ‘Improving traceability for sheep and goats’ prepared by CIE consultants for Sheep Producers Australia and SAFEMEAT has been limited due to concerns about their potential impact on international market access.
However, all state and territory farmer organisations, state and federal agriculture and/or primary industries departments and the Federal Government have been provided with the traceability evaluation and the reports.
Traceability evaluation results are motivating Sheep Producers Australia
Sheep Producers Australia has strongly recommended that a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement process be conducted to fully assess the impact and cost of five key sheep traceability reforms to the National Livestock Identification System.
SPA has said evidence in the NLIS (Sheep & Goats) Traceability Evaluation report has galvanised its support of five reform recommendations, presented by SAFEMEAT to the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC) in March 2020.
These recommendations include:
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.
SPA chief executive officer Stephen Crisp has told Sheep Central the NBC tasked SAFEMEAT in May 2018 to develop a range of reform recommendations to enhance the existing national livestock traceability system.
“SAFEMEAT’s members, which represent every sector of the meat and livestock supply chain in Australia, as well as pork wool and dairy, worked closely and constructively with its broad industry stakeholder group, including state and commonwealth governments, to develop a final report containing reform recommendations, which was submitted to NBC in March 2020.
“Industry is awaiting advice from NBC and government regarding the proposed timelines for completion of scoping work and subsequent RIS.”
Mr Crisp said for any system to succeed, the whole supply chain — including government — needed to have ownership of the system and be capable of resourcing and implementing it.
“It must be supported by adequate upfront and ongoing investment, technical assistance in the field and robust compliance monitoring.
“This is the responsibility of all participants in the supply chain,” he said.
“In tasking SAFEMEAT to develop reform recommendations, NBC recognised its broad membership and collective expertise in biosecurity, integrity systems and traceability.
“SAFEMEAT has developed options and pathways to address areas for improvement within industry and the system as it currently stands and further, presented recommendations that will lay the foundation of the system we must have for the future,” Mr Crisp said.
“A consultation RIS is necessary to fully assess the impact of these recommendations – including addressing issues and concerns of stakeholders — in order to provide a fully costed paper to AGMIN.”
He told Sheep Central that questions on the NBC timeline on considering the SAFEMEAT options should be directed to the committee or the government.
SAFEMEAT recommendations not supported by the NBC
However, a Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment spokesperson has told Sheep Central the NBC did not endorse SAFEMEAT’s reform recommendations.
“Rather it agreed further work was needed to explore and scope options to achieve the intent of the recommendations, given complexity of implementing the proposed approach.
“The NBC acknowledged the importance of SAFEMEAT as a key link to industry and the NLIS administrators and requested it continue to have a role in consultation and engagement with industry in relation to this work.”
The spokesperson said work on the SAFEMEAT recommendations is being progressed by the NBC’s National Livestock Traceability Enhancement (NLTE) Working Group, with membership comprising the Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, New South Wales and Australian governments and Animal Health Australia.
The spokesperson said New South Wales commenced chairing the NLTE working group from January 2021.
“The NBC chair understands a member of the working group attends SAFEMEAT Advisory meetings to provide updates on the group’s work.
“The NBC expects to provide advice to agriculture ministers later this year.”
Domestic traceability is a state/territory matter – Littleproud
When Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud was asked if he supported the SAFEMEAT recommendations and whether the Federal Government would consider funding a consultation RIS, he said: “The Australian Government supports effort to further strengthen national livestock traceability arrangements to maintain a robust and cost-effective tracing system into the future.
“This is critical in managing biosecurity and food safety risks, as well as securing more favourable market access for Australian producers,” he said.
Mr Littleproud said through the NBC, all Australian governments have received SAFEMEAT’s recommendations and that the NBC working group “is exploring and scoping options to achieve the intent of the recommendations.”
When asked if he believed national mandatory electronic identification of sheep and goats would improve Australia’s biosecurity, Mr Littleproud said his department is a member of the NBC working group “exploring the introduction of individual electronic identification of sheep”.
“While legislating domestic traceability requirements is largely a matter for state and territory governments, traceability is a shared responsibility; individual producers, industry associations and governments all play important roles in maintaining a robust tracing system.”
Further questions to Mr Littleproud’s office questioning the Australian Government’s commitment to strengthening livestock traceability when the NBC has had the SAFEMEAT recommendations since March 2020, yielded a deferral to his department. Mr Littleproud did not respond specifically to whether he recognised that gains from the government’s $850 million budget commitment to agriculture, including $371m for biosecurity, were at risk if Australia was unable to mitigate the impact of an exotic disease incursion because all states cannot efficiently trace all livestock movements, including sheep and goats.
The department spokesperson said the Australian Government “continues to engage with opportunities to strengthen and enhance traceability, as it is critical in managing biosecurity and food safety risks, as well as providing market access and outcomes for Australian producers.” The spokesperson pointed out that the government is delivering the $7m National Traceability Grants program, under the Modernising Agriculture Trade Initiative.
“Whilst traceability is a shared responsibility, legislative traceability requirements within Australia are largely a matter for state and territory governments.
The Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment is a member of the multijurisdictional (NBC) working group seeking to enhance livestock traceability,” the spokesperson said.
“The group is chaired by NSW DPI – questions about the group’s operations should be directed to the chair.”
Sheep Central has been refused an interview with NBC co-chair Andrew Tongue on the grounds that it is not appropriate for him to speak in isolation or give interviews on this issue, as it is primarily a state and territory/industry matter. Mr Tongue is deputy secretary of the department’s biosecurity and compliance group.
Sheep Central has also put several questions to NBC working group chair, Dr Britton, about the group’s timeline on the SAFEMEAT recommendations, but is yet to receive responses.