AUSTRALIA is moving closer to implementing a national electronic identification system for sheep and goats, albeit more than 10 years after government and industry reports recommended the measure.
A spokesperson for New South Wales Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders has told Sheep Central that “papers are currently progressing to senior agriculture officials and ministers for consideration and decision for national implementation of sheep EID.”
Sheep Central recently asked the minister if the NSW Government’s recent $169 million biosecurity funding commitment to modernising the state’s connection to the National Livestock Identification System was connected to SAFEMEAT recommendations aimed at enhancing livestock biosecurity and traceability outcomes.
Mr Saunders’ spokesperson said the February 2020 SAFEMEAT report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment’s National Biosecurity Committee outlined five recommendations to improve Australia’s livestock traceability system and remained under consideration.
“NSW, under the leadership of the Chief Veterinary Officer, was leading the NBC working group to consider options in response to recommendations 1 and 3 from the SAFEMEAT report.
“This work has been finalised and is with NBC for decision and progression,” the spokesperson said.
“Papers are currently progressing to Agricultural Senior Officials and Agricultural Ministers for consideration and decision for national implementation of sheep EID.
“NSW, like other states and Territories, continues to watch with interest how the Victorian implementation has progressed to ensure any similar work potentially done in NSW benefits producers.”
Despite Mr Saunders’ office and the chair of the NBC’s National Livestock Traceability Enhancement (NLTE) Working Group and NSW CVO, Dr Sarah Britton, not further clarifying the status of recent NBC deliberations, development on the SAFEMEAT recommendations has been welcomed.
Industry sources have also told Sheep Central the NBC is understood to have prepared or be preparing papers to AGSOC containing recommendations supporting a transition to a national sheep and goat electronic identification system, with AGSOC expected to forward its recommendations to AGMIN for action.
AGSOC is the Agriculture Senior Officials’ Committee comprising all department heads and chief executives of Australian state and territory agencies, and of the New Zealand Government, responsible for primary industries policy issues. AGMIN or AMM is the peak forum of Australia’s agriculture and primary industries ministers to collaborate on priority issues of national significance.
A DAWE spokesperson said the next AGSOC is scheduled for Thursday 21 July 2022. As yet there is no date scheduled for AGMIN.
“A proposal to implement national individual electronic identification for all sheep and goats has not yet been provided to AGSOC.”
The NBC has previously supported implementation of the national sheep and goat EID system in principle and recently considered costings by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. Dr Britton has also said the ABARES report “will give a national indication, but will still require each state to do their own costings, which most have now.”
SAFEMEAT and Sheep Producers Australia welcome progress
Independent chair of the SAFEMEAT Advisory Group Andrew Henderson said it’s extremely encouraging that governments’ consideration of SAFEMEAT’s recommendations to improve livestock traceability are moving through the required internal government processes with increased priority, especially in light of the rapidly increasing threat level posed by Lumpy Skin and Foot and Mouth Disease.
“The work Dr Britton has put into this process, along with her colleagues has been greatly appreciated by all SAFEMEAT members.
“We firmly believe that progressing all recommendations from SAFEMEAT’s 2020 report is critical to ensuring the preparedness and response capability of the livestock sector and we are keen to continue to work very closely with the jurisdictions and the Commonwealth government from here as they consider next steps.”
Sheep Producers Australia chief executive officer Bonnie Skinner said the body is awaiting the outcomes of NBC’s recommendations regarding a national EID system for sheep and the next opportunity for industry engagement in the national reform process.
“SPA is committed to progressing discussions for the implementation and funding of a national EID system for the sheep industry in conjunction with the broader NLIS reform measures proposed by SAFEMEAT.
“The cost to transition from mob-based to individual identification, and the associated system changes required to support that transition, is the most significant step in evolving into a more robust system,” she said.
“A key principle underpinning the evolution of a traceability system must be the harmonisation of traceability standards and centralisation to create a truly national system.
“SPA recognises that Australia’s multi-billion dollar red-meat and livestock industries are under constant biosecurity threats from diseases such as FMD,” Ms Skinner said.
“SPA has always taken these threats extremely seriously and has been deliberately and proactively working on the continual improvement of Australia’s livestock traceability capability with the broader red meat sector.”
First and third SAFEMEAT recommendations are NBC priorities
The first SAFEMEAT recommendation was the establishment of a regulatory or statutory entity responsible for managing Australian livestock traceability, and the third related to creating an equitable funding arrangement for establishment and ongoing maintenance of a national EID system.
The other SAFEMEAT recommendations as presented to the NBC in March 2020 included investment into a database capable of handling all FMD susceptible livestock species, mandating individual digital/electronic identification of livestock and that a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement be conducted to fully assess the impact of the five recommendations to provide a fully costed decision paper to AGMIN.
When the SAFEMEAT recommendations were made to the NBC in 2020, a staged roll-out of an improved traceability infrastructure over five years was recommended, with completion in 2025.
More than 10 years to get here and still no firm timeline
A Sheep Central collation of available industry reports shows how long successive governments and the industry have known of the need to improve the nation’s livestock traceability systems.
Exercise Minotaur conducted in September 2002 as a direct response to the outbreak of FMD in the UK, identified Australia’s livestock traceability as an area needing improvement.
The Sheepcatcher I exercise in 2007 and Sheepcatcher II in 2016 both demonstrated that Australia’s mob-based visual tag system for sheep did not meet the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards (NLTPS).
In 2011, former senior public servant Ken Matthews’ report to the then Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry – ‘A review of Australia’s preparedness for the threat of foot-and-mouth disease’ – recommended that a pathway be found for addressing weaknesses in the NLIS (Sheep & Goats) with recommendations to government ‘within 12 months’.
The review team found that the sheep industry’s current mob-based and largely non-electronic systems are not capable of meeting the nationally agreed standards for livestock traceability.
“This is particularly concerning given the role sub-clinically infected sheep may play in moving the disease around the country,” the report said.
The Centre for International Economics CIE NLIS (Sheep and Goats) Business Plan – June 2010 documented the costs associated with manually inspecting visual tags and NVDs and correcting errors and omissions, and also the option of moving to an electronic system.
A Primary Industries Ministerial Council working group report in 2012 on the feasibility and costs associated with introducing an electronic NLIS (Sheep & Goats) system concluded that there are no ‘insurmountable barriers’ to implementing an electronic tag based NLIS (Sheep & Goats) system.
The introduction of an electronic tag based NLIS (Sheep & Goats) system was also recommended in the Victorian Auditor General’s Office (VAGO) review of livestock biosecurity in Victoria, released in mid-2015.
The OIE’s report of Australia’s Performance of Veterinary Services (OIE PVS), published in November 2015 and available on the DAWE website, recognised deficiencies in the NLIS (Sheep & Goats) system and recommended that an improved traceability system be introduced.
Sheep Central has been told the Centre for International Economics (CIE) report: Improving traceability for sheep and goats – Update of the 2010 NLIS (sheep and goats) Business Plan (CIE report) prepared in March 2020 on behalf of SAFEMEAT has not been released due to concerns about the potential impact on international market access. Other reports on the issue are not in the public domain.
Recent interest in and support for establishment of a national sheep and goat EID system has been heightened by the proximity of the recent Foot and Mouth Disease and Lumpy Skin Disease outbreaks in Indonesia, and an increasing realisation that Australia’s current mainly mob and visual ear tag-based system for small stock identification does not meet national standards and represented a biosecurity risk for the nation’s livestock-based sectors.
A SAFEMEAT traceability evaluation in March-July 2020 found that visual NLIS sheep tags are performing below the National Traceability Performance Standards, with 70.08pc traceability in 30 days, versus 99.64pc for sheep with EID tags.
The 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 traceability evaluation involved sheep from saleyard lines sourced in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia sent direct to slaughter, and sheep that originated in Western Australia and Tasmania.
Victoria is the only state that has mandated EID for sheep and goats with the support of the state’s state farming organisation, the Victorian Farmers Federation. However, NSW Farmers, Queensland’s AgForce and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, have opposed the introduction of a mandatory national electronic identification system for sheep and goats.