Thursday, August 18, 2022

Judicial tussle over Nait compliance

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has rejected a claim by a Northland dairy farmer that he was made a scapegoat for non-compliance with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) Act.

Ospri head of traceability Kevin Forward acknowledged the criticism and accepted that there had been challenges with Nait.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has rejected a claim by a Northland dairy farmer that he was made a scapegoat for non-compliance with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) Act.

Ross Freidrich, of Dargaville, says MPI had ample time to withdraw prosecutions against him and avoid strong criticism of the way Nait was being administered by District Court Judge Tomlinson.

The judge’s main criticism was that Nait, Ospri and MPI do not have a process for following up hundreds, if not thousands, of RFID tags sold to farmers but not subsequently registered after implanting.

These are called “unused” tags.

Tomlinson says no farmer would buy expensive RFID tags to have them sit on a shelf and it is in the knowledge and power of the authorities to follow up with calls or visits to farmers with unused tags to ensure compliance.

“It (is) within their knowledge who (is) buying them and who (is) not registering and a direct personal contact, not an automated notification (is) in my view a simple and easy answer,” Tomlinson said.

“Farmers have many regulatory tasks to perform – Nait has just one.

“Hundreds if not thousands of unused tags are a sure-fire indication that something has gone wrong and action by Nait is required.”

Tomlinson says systemic failures by Nait and related authorities contributed significantly to the occurrence and ongoing nature of offending.

“It is now at odds with reality for Nait and MPI to seek to place all the blame and risk of unregistered animals and their movements on Freidrich and those like him when the data and all the information to ensure easy compliance was within Nait power,” he said.

“(It was within Nait control) at a much earlier stage where swift and importantly direct action could have immediately corrected the situation, avoided prosecutions and most importantly of all, met the section 3 purposes of the legislation.”

Section 3 of the Nait Act 2012 says the purposes of the legislation include biosecurity and prevention of risks to human health.

The judge also criticised the use of the phrase “no further action required”, which is sent to farmers after they consign animals to the freezing works.

“I find that there has been an abject failure by Nait and by extension the MPI to protect and ensure the integrity of the legislation, by telling farmers in this circumstance “no further action required,” he said.

This point was particularly relevant to the third charge against Freidrich, when he sent 78 animals in four movements to Affco’s plant at Moerewa.

His counsel argued the use of this phrase created confusion for Freidrich and contributed to his inadvertent offending.

The fines imposed on Freidrich were reduced by 50% because of Nait’s failures and contributions to offending, especially in view of the recent tenfold increases in the penalties under the Act.

The judge also discounted the fines by 40% because of the guilty plea, prior good character and remorse and for Freidrich’s efforts at educating others.

Ospri head of traceability Kevin Forward acknowledged the criticism and accepted that there had been challenges with Nait.

Ospri was working with MPI to review their processes in light of this decision. Regional offices were being strengthened for more face-to-face contact with farmers, strengthening the customer support team, and investing in new technology to make it easier for farmers to comply. It has also been increasing targeted education on compliance, with a focus on tag and register since 2019.

MPI regional manager animal welfare and Nait compliance Brendon Mikkelsen says the court fined Freidrich $8550 and MPI made no apology for taking action where required to protect biosecurity.

“Our ability to track and trace cattle and deer through the system is a critical factor in managing threats, which could have a devastating impact on the agricultural sector,” Mikkelsen said.

“As the judge noted in his summary, Freidrich was convicted for offending, which could lead to untraceable chains of infection and irreparable damage.

“MPI does not accept Freidrich’s claim that he was a scapegoat.

“Most people in charge of animals support the Nait scheme and understand the importance of registration, which has been a requirement for the past eight years.”

When he found out about the prosecution, Freidrich was able “in short order” to find out what was required and take action to comply.

“The fact that he did not choose to educate himself and operated for some time in breach however counts significantly against him in my assessment,” he said.

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