Victorian farmers want the Sheepcatcher II report released, but the other states….

Terry Sim November 30, 2016
Lambs with electronic EID or RFID tags.

Lambs with electronic EID or RFID tags.

VICTORIAN farmers want the important sheep traceability report Sheepcatcher II to be released, but next Wednesday all state farmer bodies and government agriculture departments will vote on it.

The keenly-awaited report will be considered in Sydney at what is expected to be the last meeting of the National Livestock Identification System Sheep and Goat Advisory Committee.

The December 7 meeting will be the first time the full report has been considered by the committee’s state farmer body and government department members. The Sheepcatcher II committee has seen the full report “in confidence”, but advisory committee members have only had verbal reports from Animal Health Australia on its progress. The NLIS Sheep and Goat Advisory Committee reports to the SAFEMEAT Partners executive group. Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.

The Sheepcatcher II exercise was held from June 2 till July 5 to assess the National Livestock Identification System for sheep and goats against the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards.

The exercise involved the tracking of 60 sheep and goats selected from various points in the national production system, including saleyards and abattoirs. It was carried out by SAFEMEAT, the state and territory departments of agriculture from all jurisdictions (except the NT) and Animal Health Australia. Information gathered in the exercise is to be used to guide future improvements of the NLIS for sheep and goats.

As the most up-to-date assessment of the state NLIS traceability systems for sheep, the Sheepcatcher II report is expected to indicate whether all states are meeting national performance standards. However, there are some industry concerns the report’s results could undermine Australia’s international food safety and biosecurity reputation or put pressure on other states to follow Victoria’s lead in mandating electronic sheep and goat identification.

The exercise also partially underpinned Victoria’s sheep EID decision, with the state’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Charles Milne reporting difficulty in tracing 14 sheep during the exercise, exposing gaps in the current visual tag-based sheep identification system. Agriculture Victoria reported a mixed engagement response from some industry sectors during the exercise, with some keen to provide whatever assistance necessary, while “others were not invested in providing assistance at all.”

SAFEMEAT Partners ‘unlikely’ to go against committee

NLIS Sheep and Goat Advisory Committee chairman Ian Feldtmann confirmed the report’s release would be discussed at the December 7 meeting.

“At the moment, it is only the advisory committee’s report, but overseeing us is SAFEMEAT, so ultimately we have to hand the recommendation and the report to the SAFEMEAT Partners.

“Depending on what the thought is at the committee about what would be released, that will be the decision, but the report, because of the structure, belongs to SAFEMEAT,” he said.

“Because we’ve got all the state governments and state industry representatives around that table, we will make the decision where it will go from there,” he said.

“It is our report and if all those sitting on that advisory committee believe that that report should be released, we’ll ensure that it does.

“I believe if we have a strong view on it, that’s what will happen,” Mr Feldtmann said.

Mr Feldtmann believed there would probably need to be a consensus, or unanimous agreement, by advisory committee members, for the report to be released.

“It just depends on the thinking of that meeting at the time.”

Mr Feldtmann said it would not be appropriate for him to give his personal opinion before the December 7 meeting.

SAFEMEAT Partners chairman Ross Keane said it was unlikely the SP executive group would not support the advisory committee’s recommendation on the Sheepcatcher II report’s release.

VFF supports the Sheepcatcher II report’s release

Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance supported the release of the Sheepcatcher II report as soon as possible.

Although the VFF supported the recent decision by the Victorian Government to mandate electronic identification for sheep and goats in the state, he said the VFF preferred it to be part of a national system. He believed any concern about the release of the Sheepcatcher II results was based on how Australia’s traceability system would be viewed “because the results were so poor.”

“I’ve only seen bits and pieces and second hand comments from people.”

He said the Sheepcatcher II exercise showed that the current visual tag-based sheep and goat system doesn’t work in Victoria.

“It was industry-funded exercise and therefore the results should be published.

“Whether it is good or bad, the results should be made public,” he said.

“What have we got to hide?”

As a livestock producer and chairman of Victoria’s Sheep and Goat Identification Advisory Committee Stuart McLean said he personally had “absolutely no problem” with the full report being released.

“I think the full report should be released as soon as possible so that people can understand where it’s at,” he said.

“At the moment there is a lot of discussion about the report, and the final report needs to be out there to give some direction to industry.”

But as a member of the national advisory committee chaired by Mr Feldtmann, he had to wait to see the final report.

“It will be the decision of that committee as to what they do with that particular report.”

Victorian minister to ‘respect’ Sheepcatcher II decision

When asked if the Sheepcatcher II report should be released, Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford referred Sheep Central to the Victorian Auditor-General’s ‘Biosecurity: Livestock’ report in August which recommended the Victorian Government finalise its plans to implement a new electronic traceability system for sheep and goats. The report also found the current visual tag-based sheep system was a major weakness of the NLIS and posed risks for the cattle industry, due to the risk of some diseases able to be transmitted between sheep and cattle.

“In the same way that other jurisdictions are respecting Victoria’s right to make this (mandatory EID decision) the decisions that they make I think are something that we need to respect.

“I think that this shift is inevitable and people will come to this in their own time be it for improved biosecurity, better traceability because our trading markets demand it, or productivity improvements that can be gained on farm.”

Under the current Safemeat Initiatives Review, the December 7 advisory committee meeting is expected to be its last, before the NLIS cattle and sheep advisory committees are merged with the Livestock Production Assurance program into a new policy group advising an enhanced NLIS Ltd board. The restructure is part of a vision for a new industry-funded fully auditable and responsive whole-of-chain risk management system maintaining market access, food safety, product integrity (including traceability and animal welfare), and biosecurity.


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