WESTERN Australia’s Pastoralist and Graziers Association believes a traceability evaluation that found visual sheep tags were not meeting national performance standards was “set up to give a predetermined outcome.”
A SAFEMEAT traceability evaluation of Australia’s National Livestock Identification System 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.
The report found 99.64pc of sheep with NLIS electronic tags were 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.
The evaluation findings underpinned five SAFEMEAT recommendations to the National Biosecurity Committee that involved the costing of: mandatory national sheep and goat EID, a regulatory livestock traceability entity, a Foot and Mouth Disease-susceptible livestock database and an equitable funding arrangement. The final recommendation was that a consultation Regulatory Impact Statement be conducted to fully assess the impact of the recommendations to provide a fully costed decision paper to AGMIN.
The SAFEMEAT recommendations, supported by Sheep Producers Australia’s Product Integrity Committee, have been with the NBC since March 2020 and a NBC working group is scheduled to present its findings to the NBC to report to AGMIN by the end of the year. Sheep Central has been denied an interview with NBC co-chair Andrew Tongue and put several questions to NBC working group chair, Dr Britton, about the group’s timeline on the SAFEMEAT recommendations, but has received no response.
PGA doubts traceability evaluation results are repeatable
However, PGA Livestock Committee chairman Chris Patmore has outlined his association’s opposition to a national mandatory sheep and goat EID system and his distrust of industry actions to determine a course of action.
“I think it (the traceability evaluation) was set up to give a pre-determined outcome.
“I don’t think the results are regularly repeatable in a real-life situation,” he said.
“The electronic ID tags would be marginally better at traceability than visual ear tags, the WA system is by far the best visual tags system in Australia and we think it is more than adequate for the time being.”
AgForce’s representative on the SPA Product Integrity committee, Stephen Tully, also questioned the accuracy and independence of the traceability evaluation, doubting that 99.64pc traceability was even possible.
Mr Tully said AgForce mandatory sheep and goat EID because of the extra cost involved in tags and labour involved in scanning for property-to-property transfer. He said the value of wider electronic waybill or National Vendor Declarations needed to be explored. Mr Tully said the 80pc traceability performance in the cattle industry was a more accurate portrayal of what would be achievable in a national sheep EID tag-based system.
AgForce Sheep and Wool Board chairman Mike Pratt said the body would like to see increased uptake of electronic NVDs to address traceability issues in the sheep industry.
“We are against a mandatory sheep EID system, until our overseas customers demand it.
“It’s would be a huge impost on our industry,” he said.
“A lot of Queensland is still drought-declared and the cost of going down that track ….
“If they could bring the cost of tags back to 50 cents it would certainly make it a lot more acceptable.”
He recognized there would no extra labour cost putting in electronic tags at marking, but there would be extra cost in putting lost tags in before moving sheep between properties or to meatworks.
“We are sort of holding back as long as we can for those reasons.”
SAFEMEAT and SPA defend traceability evaluation
SAFEMEAT Advisory Group chairman Andrew Henderson defended the methodology and veracity of the traceability evaluation.
“It is the most accurate real-time test of this system that has been done.
“It’s repeatable every day of the week, it’s a very labour-intensive exercise to run, but it’s not hard.”
SPA chief executive officer Stephen Crisp said the data presented in the traceability evaluation report was collected by staff from New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Biosecurity Queensland in order to eliminate any potential bias.
“The data was then reviewed and scrutinised by staff from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in Western Australia.
“The report presents the results of the evaluation exercise in a technical, science-based format to eliminate bias and increase transparency,” he said.
PGA supports an independent costing of EID options
Mr Patmore said PGA also did not support forming a new livestock traceability entity or an FMD-susceptible livestock database.
“We don’t want to lose our WA state-based system.”
He is not confident that the current process could deliver a genuine fully costed decision paper to AGMIN “that is not set up to give a pre-determined outcome.”
“There are too many people involved with the process that have a hell-bent idea that we should have mandatory EIDs, without giving us sufficient reasons.”
He believed Sheep Producers Australia’s agenda is to impose mandatory sheep EID. He would support a costing of options for an EID system, if he had confidence it could reach an independent outcome.
“I don’t want a certain outcome, I want a genuine outcome.”
Although Mr Patmore said the mandatory use of transaction tags (with a PIC number) was the WA system’s strong point, this did not translate into support for a mandatory EID system.
The WA producer said the March 2020 ‘Improving traceability for sheep and goats’ report by the Centre for International Economics and IDA Economics highlighted that 84 percent of all sheep in Australia go directly from property of birth to slaughter or live export, “and there is no traceability benefit by individually ear tagging them.”
“Now if we are designing a system to suit the other 16pc of sheep which are transacted, we’ve got to wonder if there is the right sort of system.”
Mr Patmore conceded that the market destination of livestock was not known until a producer decided, but he queried the value of tagging all sheep just because 16pc were transacted outside direct abattoir consignment or live export.
And on the reports that producers have not seen….
Mr Patmore said he believed the full CIE report “probably should’ be made available to all sheep producers.
Sheep Central has been told that access to the full traceability evaluation, to a SAFEMEAT report for the NBC, ‘Reforming Australia’s Livestock Traceability System’ and to CIE report has been limited due to concerns about their potential impact on international market access. The reports have been made available to state farming organisations, peak bodies and government departments.
“I think they probably should be (made public), but I can understand the hesitance to do it, because of the risk to the markets.
“I think it is inevitable that someone is going to leak them, at some stage, but it won’t be me though.”
Mr Patmore believes all the reports contain conclusions “not opposing” national mandatory EID of sheep and goats.
“There is going to a huge cost to the industry and I don’t see that we are going to get any benefit from it.”
NBC delay on SAFEMEAT recommendations suits PGA
Although industry and governments have not yet decided to implement nation electronic identification of sheep and goats, and the NBC has been considering the SAFEMEAT recommendations for more than 16 months, Mr Patmore said “slow implementation is a good thing.”
“It’s not something that we want; the PGA is dead against the introduction of mandatory EID.
“So is Queensland’s AgForce and so is NSW Farmers, but I’m not representing them,” he said.
“PGA thinks the benefits certainly won’t outweigh the costs of making EID mandatory.”
Although the final cost of making electronic identification of sheep and goats mandatory, and costing funding options is part of the SAFEMEAT recommendations, Mr Patmore said PGA had a “fair idea” of the EID reader and labour costs involved.
“When the times comes that we can be convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs, we will support it.
“At this stage, we are a long way from that.”
Current RFID tags are old technology – PGA
Mr Patmore also questioned the benefits of a mandatory sheep and goat EID system based on the radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags used in Victoria.
“This is old technology EID, there is now technology coming along that we probably could take advantage of.
“New types of ear tags with tracking and that sort of thing.”
He conceded using so-called ‘smart tags’ would still constitute putting a tag in every sheep’s ear.
“It is, but it would actually have data within it, whereas these tags don’t have anything, they are just a number.
“We support using new technology that would provide us with some more benefits.”
Mr Patmore said there was also poor traceability in the cattle industry, where EID tags were mandatory, but were not meeting national performance standards.
“So why is it going to work in sheep?”
Mr Patmore said there would be “a big backlash” from producers if mandatory electronic ID of sheep and goats was forced on them.
“The way it is looking is that it is inevitable, but we are pushing back against it as hard as we can.”
Should there be a plebiscite on mandatory sheep EID?
Mr Patmore said PGA was representing its members on the SPA Product Integrity Committee “and our members don’t want mandatory EID.”
He conceded that a national plebiscite on the issue “certainly wouldn’t do any harm, but I’m confident that we are accurately representing our members at PGA, at least.
“But I wouldn’t be against a vote of all members, of all producers.”
Cost benefit of EID tags would be marginal
Mr Patmore indicated he doesn’t accept that the cost of an exotic disease outbreak outweighed any establishment costs of mandatory EID tagging of sheep and goats, and that there would be a marginal benefit from EID tags in mitigating an outbreak’s impact.
“If I thought that EIDs were going to save us from an outbreak of any type of disease I might be in favor of it.
“But to get a marginal increase in traceability, I don’t think is good enough.”
When asked if he thought 99pc versus 70pc traceability within 30 days was marginal, he said he did not agree with the figures.
“They don’t even sound logical.”
Mr Patmore also doubted the value of a bigger analysis of sheep and goat traceability across Australia.
“That wouldn’t do any harm, but I don’t know whether there would be any benefit.
“We’ve got a bigger analysis of mandatory EID in the cattle industry and that shows that the traceability is not good enough.”
Mr Patmore said the biggest problem with beef cattle traceability lay with the entering of property-to-property transfers into the database.
“It’s not going to matter what type of tag you’ve got in their ear.”
Benefit must be proportionate to the costs – SPA
Mr Crisp said not having a national sheep system will always throw up difficulties in managing traceability, as so much stock moves across borders, for stocking or processing.
SPA sees the comparisons in the traceability evaluation as essential, to get the best system for the industry’s sustainability, and for producers to easily participate without a cost burden that is disproportionate to any benefit.
“This is why SPA supports gathering the evidence in the most independent way that industry can come up with, along with asking recommendations to be followed through.
“In this case, the next stage is looking at the costs and benefits of any change, and if there is a better system, ensuring the cost is acceptable for both producers and the whole of industry,” he said.
“To assess this, SPA will be referring everything back to our membership base for feedback.”
Sheep Central was unable to determine NSW Farmers current view on mandatory sheep EID or the SAFEMEAT recommendations.