New Zealand farming leaders support the continued use of mob-based traceability for sheep despite Australian states adopting electronic identification as they confront an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia.
New South Wales, which has Australia’s largest number of sheep, last week joined Victoria in mandating electronic identification (EID) for sheep and goats.
The move has the support of the meat industry and Sheep Producers Australia.
“Individual traceability for sheep and goats will be critical in the event of an emergency disease outbreak like foot-and-mouth disease in Australia,” NSW Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders said.
Saunders said there is a strong argument for EID to be extended nationally to all 74-million sheep in Australia.
The issue has loomed front and centre in Australia with the discovery of FMD throughout Indonesia, a country to which an estimated 1000 Australian holidaymakers travel every day.
But Beef+Lamb NZ and Federated Farmers are both resisting mandated EID here, saying the current mob-based traceability system works well and has fewer challenges than EID, given that districts have limited or no internet connectivity and potential users have capability issues.
B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said research by his organisation confirms mob-based traceability systems are appropriate, but he wants farmers to move to electronic animal status declaration (eASD) systems.
“For us the focus really is on eASD, to allow the electronic capture of movements from farm to farm and farm to processors,” said McIvor.
“The second aspect we are really keen on, and it is absolutely critical for biosecurity overall, is having an accurate farm database so we know what is on farms.”
Federated Farmers board member William Beetham said cost, the lack of internet connectivity, inefficient scanning systems and the IT challenge for many users make mandating EID impractical.
He has used the system and said it costs $2 a tag – and lost tags have to be constantly replaced.
McIvor said the NZ Meat Board has a $61 million contingency fund for reinstating and rebuilding markets and consumer confidence should FMD arrive in NZ.
“Regardless of the impact, rebuilding consumer confidence will be key because often they miss the facts.”
He said the risk of FMD arriving in NZ is low, though “it does not mean we should not manage that risk given the consequences”.
The Australia state of Victoria has required the use of EID tags since 2016.
At 17m sheep, it has the second largest population behind NSW at 21m and Western Australia at 14m.
The Australian Government estimates the cost of an FMD outbreak would be NZ$89m over 10 years.
Sheep Producers Australia chief executive Bonnie Skinner said industry has been calling for a national EID scheme for sheep as part of broader reform that strengthens traceability for biosecurity, food safety and to support market access requirements.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson has called for the entire agricultural industry to support national EID.