A GROUP of sheep and wool industry leaders and producers have united to voice their opposition to the push for mandatory electronic identification by what it says is a minority of industry stakeholders.
They are calling on other producers to lobby state farming organisations and agricultural departments for the current mob-based movement system to remain and for use of radio frequency identification tags to be voluntary.
They want producers to communicate the benefits and value of the current system as the most efficient, timely and cost-effective way to maintain full traceability in legislated timeframes.
Key concerns with RFID included who would foot the $816 million bill to roll it out, plus the extra labour required in scanning; potential animal welfare issues because of increased movements, particularly between properties in drought times; and the unanswered questions around non-saleyard movements, such as private sales and competitive events.
The concerns were outlined in an open letter – facilitated by two Elders livestock managers, Gary Tapscott and Chris Howie – to the industry this week from peak sheep industry bodies and the livestock producers who in total manage 2.5 million sheep.
“Like the overwhelming majority of other sheep and wool producers around Australia, they have been watching with interest over the past 12 months with a push by a very narrow sector of the industry to attempt to justify the introduction of a mandatory RFID system on the back of a foot-and-mouth disease scare-driven campaign,” the letter said.
The letter comes as the Victorian Government – whose Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh is a proponent of RFID – committed $550,000 to progress electronicID uptake, half of which is producer money from the State’s sheep industry fund.
He said the money would help to support and train producers who were keen to use eID.
“Victoria needs an efficient identification and tracking system for sheep and goats to protect our livestock industries from the devastating economic consequences of a serious exotic disease such as foot and mouth disease,” he said.
Mr Walsh said there was potential for the industry to electronically tag sheep in 2014 given there were “attractively-priced electronic tags” and saleyards were investigating ways to efficiently scan sheep.
Fletcher International Exports’ Roger Fletcher weighed into the debate, saying electronic identification would mean huge extra expense and animal welfare risk.
The family-owned company has annual processing capacity of up to 4.5 million sheep and runs about 100,000 sheep on properties in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. It already has systems in place that, combined with current mob-based movement traceback, can track animals to their property of origin in minutes.
“Wouldn’t our industry be in a safer and more economical position by putting this extra money and effort into resourcing ways to eliminate the risks from wild dogs and feral pigs, which both pose a greater risk to all those in the industry,” he said.
“Eliminating these risks, especially wild dogs, would have the added bonus of significantly improved lambing survival rates, thus increasing producers profitability.”
WoolProducers Australia president Geoff Power said the organisation opposed a mandatory RFID system because the industry’s feedback was that the mob-based movement system was more than adequate for traceback, in the “highly unlikely event of any type of disease outbreak”.
Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive Ron Cullen called on all parts of the sheep industry to get behind the current system, and for the industry and government to work together to implement it nationally.
“It can meet our traceability requirements and it can deliver on the recommendations in the Matthew’s report,” he said.
Australian Livestock & Property Agents Association chief executive Andy Madigan said the traceability relied on the NLIS database, not the type of tag in the sheep’s ear and that in the event of a disease outbreak, agents would be available day or night to help.
AuctionsPlus general manager Gary Dick said mandatory use of radio frequency identification tags could have significant impacts for the company which has grown its reputation as a best practice way of selling sheep in terms of animal welfare and livestock handling.
He said the two million stock sold a year through AuctionsPlus were treated the same as private property to property sales, where the buyer was responsible for transferring stock on the industry database under the National Livestock Identification Scheme.
“Under any mandatory RFID proposal, all these sheep would have to be scanned en route to the vendor, which would probably involve a detour to the nearest saleyard, unload the sheep, scan and then reload and continue the journey,” he said. “All this will greatly increase the risk of biosecurity, animal welfare and driver fatigue issues and penalise producers.”
Elders national livestock operations manager Chris Howie said while the company supports all stud and commercial breeders who use electronic tags, it also strongly supported the current system for all commercial producers, large or small.
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