Sheep and woolgrower bodies reject OIE report’s cattle threat claims and EID system plea

Terry Sim, June 10, 2016
Sheepmeats Council of Australia president Jeff Murray

Sheepmeats Council of Australia president Jeff Murray

AUSTRALIA’S major sheep meat and woolgrower bodies have rejected suggestions the industry’s livestock ear tagging system represents a threat to the cattle industry and electronic identification should be implemented.

A recent World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) report on the Performance of Veterinary Services in Australia found that the nation’s cattle industries were threatened by “the lack of an efficient tracing system for sheep”.

The report recommended that Australia implement efficient traceability of sheep, hopefully via electronic identification (EID) as soon as possible, and monitor cross-jurisdictional movements for improved compliance.

The report said Australia’s cattle industries had spent a lot of money on developing a very good system which could be jeopardised by lack of an efficient tracing system for sheep.

Sheepmeat Council of Australia president Jeff Murray said it was not appropriate for livestock industries to be played off against each other in the media.

“The risk of cross-species infection is one that all livestock industries are exposed to and a responsibility we all take seriously.

“This is why the highest standards of traceability are in place for each livestock industry and a cross-industry national framework in the form of SAFEMEAT, which examines traceability, is in place,” he said.

“However, the traceability system must be practical and appropriate for the needs of each sector and this is generally acknowledged by all parties.

“The Sheepmeat Council of Australia supports individual producers implementing electronic identification if it is appropriate for their business,” Mr Murray said.

“However, it is not appropriate to be mandated at this point in time for various reasons including available technology.”

WoolProducers strongly disagrees cattle industry is threatened

WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall noted the positive findings around Australia’s biosecurity system in the OIE report “demonstrating that Australia is a world leader in animal biosecurity”.

“This status has been achieved through a collective approach to biosecurity by livestock producers and governments by implementing a range of mechanism to support and enhance biosecurity arrangements,” she said.

‘However, we strongly disagree with the assertion that the cattle industry is threatened by the lack of mandatory electronic identification in the sheep industry.

“WPA sees no point in comparing traceability arrangements between livestock species as there are too many variables that make such a simplistic statement irrelevant.”

Ms Hall said the current mob-based arrangements for sheep movements in Australia provide adequate tractability if the nationally agreed business rules are implemented consistently across the country.

“The success of these types of systems is dependent on all parties, from the producer through to the regulators ensuring that they are fulfilling their commitments under this system.

‘WPA supports the right of individual producers to utilise electronic identification for their management purposes but does not consider that there are enough universal benefits for industry to be burdened with the mandatory application of this technology,” she said.

“The wool industry strives for continuous improvement and the Sheepcatcher II exercise which is currently being actioned across the country is another example of the industry and government collaborating to achieve this.”

SCA leader says traceability system is world-leading

Mr Murray said the OIE report is the first completed in a developed country.

“It highlights Australia’s extraordinary commitment to biosecurity and rightfully places in the context of having export oriented industries.

“Australia’s traceability system is industry managed in partnership with state jurisdictions,” he said.

Mr Murray said Australia’s livestock traceability system was world-leading, suited for Australian production and conditions, but the industry always welcomed improvements to our traceability systems. He also cited the Sheepcatcher II exercise as an example of the industry’s willingness to make improvements.

“It must also be emphasised that for a national system to be effective, consistency is key.

“As an industry we value the partnership we have with our jurisdictional partners in ensuring this national consistency,” he said.

“However, it must be noted the report also highlighted resourcing in jurisdictions as a concern.

“This is a fundamental concern and one that must be addressed in the context of our partnership and to ensure the effectiveness of the system.”

OIE report highlighted EAD resource strengths and deficiencies

The report said the strengths of Australia’s Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness and Response system included:

– Excellent preparedness, through high-level emergency management committees meeting at regular intervals to undertake “stock stand-still” and disease response simulations.

– In emergency situations, a strong chain of command is achieved by using a well-defined incident command structure at Commonwealth and jurisdictional levels – this overcomes the complexity of the federal governance structure of Australia and permits staff to be readily transferred across jurisdictions.

But the report also listed EAD preparedness and response system weaknesses such as:

– Currently mapping systems between states may not be fully compatible.

– Present staff numbers may limit rapid and sustained response to sanitary emergencies.

– The OIE team was informed that although private veterinarians are perceived to being a vital link in biosecurity and emergency response plans, their participation in emergency response, although laid down on paper, is not enforceable and is often lacking, thereby creating reduced capacity in the surveillance and response system.

– In some jurisdictions the decline in financial and staff resourcing for core biosecurity functions has weakened their capacity to effectively detect, prepare for and respond to an emergency livestock disease outbreak.

The OIE team’s recommendations included:

– Ensure inter-operability of jurisdictional mapping and data systems for emergency response.

– There should be an in depth evaluation of staffing levels at jurisdictional level for rapid response.

– Finalise development and implement a national emergency data management system or interface (e.g. working with Victoria’s emergency management software “MAX” and other systems as required) to allow the information from jurisdictions to be collected, collated and nationally reported, as per the Commonwealth and jurisdictions’ commitment under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB). This Data Warehouse would allow the receipt of information in a consistent form with jurisdictions during an emergency animal disease event for national reporting purposes.


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  1. Bruce Dumbrell, June 17, 2016

    We believe at Leader that it is imperative that if at any stage we proceed to electronic sheep tags, that all tags should be tested for their ability to be read in race readers. There is no way that they can be read by hand-held reader as is required by some tags currently being supplied here from overseas. Imagine the trouble it will cause. The approval process currently allows for hand-held readers to be used and thus does not pick up the poor reading tags with the damaged ferrite in the pin.

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