ELECTRONIC ear tagging of sheep should ideally apply nationally and be affordable for producers — these are two things Victorian livestock leader Ian Feldtmann and state Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford seem to agree on.
Just weeks after Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford asked other states to join a national electronic sheep tag tender, a Victorian Auditor-General’s report yesterday exposed State Government plans for an electronic traceability system for sheep and goats.
The auditor-general’s report prompted Mr Feldtmann, the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Livestock president, to reiterate the VFF’s opposition to mandatory electronic identification of sheep and goats in the state, while also supporting a national tender for electronic tags.
No details of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources’ proposed electronic traceability system have been released and it is not known what the other states’ responses were to Ms Pulford’s tender requests.
But the auditor-general’s ‘Biosecurity: Livestock’ report said the traceability of sheep and goats using visually-read tags is a major weakness of the National Livestock Identification System, pointing out significant problems with the current visual tag mob-based and paper vendor declaration system.
The report said if DEDJTR’s electronic traceability system for sheep and goats was “implemented as planned” it could significantly improve Victoria’s capability to prevent, prepare for and respond to an emergency animal disease outbreak, and lead to improved market access, food safety and livestock production efficiency.
At the Livestock Saleyards Association’s annual conference on August 7, Ms Pulford said the Victorian Government issued the EID ear tag tender documents to continue to drive the price of electronic tags down “and to test what the price might be if the tagging was mandatory”.
“So we are asking for a competitive tender – we want to check what the price is at 400,000 and we want to check what the price is at 10 million,” she said.
Feldtmann supports national tender for EID sheep tags
Mr Feldtmann said yesterday if the Victorian State Government was serious about the issue, then it should be working with its interstate counterparts “to deliver a national scheme, based on a low-cost electronic tag that’s delivered via a national tender”.
“The strength of any electronic ID system is dependent on it being national, given the interstate trade in sheep,” he said.
“We’re not opposed to electronic ID of sheep and goats as long as it remains voluntary, but many producers are opposed to mandatory ID tags because the costs are too high and they can’t see the value.
“The point is with a national tender, we should be able to get tags at a price that’s comparable to visual tags.”
Electronic identification of sheep and goats is far too expensive to warrant forcing farmers to e-tag all their mobs, Mr Feldtmann said. GST-exempt electronic sheep ear tags are available in Victoria for 83-90 cents, including postage and handling, about 2.5-3 times the price of a standard visual tag. But he said a national EID tag tender was “the only way to go.”
“If the (electronic) tags are down to a comparable price to the visual tags there would be no further debate as far as the industry is concerned.”
However, Mr Feldtmann said this did not mean he supported mandatory EID sheep tags in Victoria if their price was comparable to visual tags.
“If the Minister (Pulford) is wanting to make electronic tags mandatory she needs to drive a national approach so that there can be a nationwide tender for tags to bring them back to a comparable price of visual tags.”
Mandatory electronic tags in Victoria would not solve any biosecurity and traceability problems, he said.
“Because livestock travel from all states in and out of Victoria to be sorted and sold – it has to be a national scheme and the tags would have to be a comparable (cost) to visual tags for any such system to even work.”
VFF holds firm on voluntary EID tags in Victoria
Mr Feldtmann said as far as the VFF is concerned, electronic identification of sheep must remain voluntary.
“The VFF is holding the Labor Government to its pre-election promise that sheep and goat electronic identification would remain voluntary,” he said.
But the existence of the DEDJTR electronic traceability plan indicated the Victorian Government was already going back on the Labor Party’s pre-election promise on EID tagging of sheep, he said.
Prior to the 2014 State Election the party’s Agriculture spokesman Jacinta Allan said Labor would not introduce mandatory electronic tagging of sheep until there is a nationally consistent approach that is affordable for farmers and well-supported by industry.
The VFF said it understands Ms Pulford has responded to the VAGO report by calling for advice on the electronic identification of sheep and goats.
The electronic tagging of cattle is far from a success. The first step should be a complete and open review of the cattle scheme.