National Livestock Identification System debate rages on

Mixed opinions about electronic tagging regulations have divided south-west sheep and lamb industries.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the mandatory use of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) – announced by the state government in August – would isolate the Victorian industry. 

He said the state government had promised not to introduce eID unless it was part of a national scheme prior to election, two years ago. 

“A move unique to Victoria (was announced) with barely one month of consultation… and less than four months for farmers to prepare,” he said. 

He said under the act, all new sheep and goats born in Victoria will require an electronic identification tag before they leave the farm from 2017.  

Hamilton stock agent Warren Clark echoed the concerns of Mr Walsh and said other agents were also disillusioned by the change that would cost them thousands, with little time or direction to prepare. 

“The N in NLIS means national,” he said. “It makes no difference at all for Victoria to go alone.”

The Australian Livestock & Property Agents board director said in addition the lack of time and money needed to scan more than 50,000 sheep, other issues included occupational health and safety and animal welfare elements. 

“It’s thrown upon us overnight, basically” he said. 

“No trials done to show us how this will work, no sales have been done with scanning.

“It can’t inhibit the flow of the sale but it will… the technology isn’t there to handle it.”

Penshurst farmer Neville Kruger said it seemed rushed.

“I just don’t know how (the saleyards are) going to handle scanning all those sheep,” he said. “Logistically, it’s a pretty tall order.”

However, the Victorian Sheep & Goat Identification committee have backed the decision as a worthwhile move. 

Chairman Stuart McLean said Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford made her decision after receiving clear advice from experts and defended the move as an important call to modernise the industry.  

Mr McLean said the historic profile of Victorian sheep farming mirrored the “arc of national progress”. 

“What was once a wool-driven industry... is today a provider of first class high-value lamb,” he said. 

Mr McLean said farming sheep and goats in needed to be smarter due to globalisation and embracing the digital-age would help “safeguard access to profitable export markets” and boost productivity gains on farm. 

“There is no doubt we need to adapt to the new technology with level heads,” he said. “That is why the decision is being implemented with a common sense time frame.”

Mr McLean said everyone involved would have the opportunity to prepare and adapt with transition grants and a phased entry of the tags. 

Feedback from industry players is being sought following the committee’s draft electronic NLIS sheep and goat standards. 

“I encourage all stakeholders to participate and necessary alterations to the standards can be made as we get closer to the new system being rolled out,” Mr McLean said. 

“It is essential that our animals are able to be located quickly and accurately to manage and minimise the spread of disease – foot-and-mouth, anthrax and other nasty bugs – or the impacts of food safety related emergencies.

“We should be embracing these changes, working to maximise the benefits of the technology, to really set ourselves up for the long run.” 

Winslow Merino sheep producer Brendan Finnigan said he had been e-tagging his sheep for a number of years and agreed with the move. 

“We use it for recording performance in regards to fleece weight and microns and it alleviates errors,” he said. “It simplifies the job a hell of a lot.”

He said it would save time when processing large numbers of sheep. 

“You make five per cent errors when you do it manually,” he said. “With scanning there’s no manual handling.” 

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