Live Export

Opinion: Time to make NLIS truly ‘National’

Jon Condon, 19/06/2011


Beef Central publisher, Jon Condon The events of the past two weeks in Indonesia should be used as a catalyst to drive Australia’s National Livestock Identification System to the next level, making the program truly ‘national.’

Currently there are gaping holes in the program, which potentially compromise its two key functions: the ability to provide traceability back to property of origin in the event of an exotic disease outbreak, and as a means of delivering greater food safety integrity.

The current live export shutdown to Indonesia has again highlighted the issue of ‘exemptions’ from the NLIS process.

In both the Northern Territory and Western Australia, State Governments allow cattle producers consigning animals for live export, from property of birth, to waive the NLIS-tagged-before-movement rule that applies across all other regions of Australia.

The justification is that it is relatively straightforward to trace such animals (typically sold in big lines) back to their original source, without the use of EID tags, using firebrands. There was also an underlying belief that ‘developing’ live export markets like Indonesia had little direct interest in product integrity/food safety, the way more ‘sophisticated’ boxed beef consumer markets do.

That’s not to say that some cattle from the NT/WA region don’t bear NLIS tags. Major pastoral companies like AA Co and a percentage of privateer managers elect themselves to apply tags, for management and other reasons. But the point is that a substantial proportion of the region’s live export animals are not tagged. Equally important is the fact that Australia’s northern coastline is regarded as by far the highest risk area for exotic disease or pest incursion.

Queensland did away with the no-tag for direct-consign option years ago, recognising that the industry either embraced the NLIS process and its underlying value to the industry, or it didn’t.

Does such a process compromise the broader integrity of NLIS on the international stage? Many would argue that “NLIS-Lite” does nothing to underpin the perception of the world’s best traceability system, and in fact represents a huge sacrifice, given the relatively modest ‘convenience’ and ‘cost saving’ factors that avoiding tagging obviously provides for far-northern live export cattle suppliers.

But suddenly, circumstances have changed. It now appears inevitable that under any re-opening of live trade with Indonesia, NLIS devices will become a mandatory component. Tags can be read at different points through the supply chain, including the accredited meatworks, providing an indelible animal welfare history on every single animal. The Australian Livestock Export Council is moving to support the adoption of NLIS tags. A member on Saturday said the Council would be “heading that way” from July. 

Some stakeholders suggest that for those northern cattle not already carrying tags, they could be applied in holding depots near ports before departure, rather than property of origin. That smacks of a piecemeal solution, when the adoption of full tagging requirement before shipment from property of origin offers so much more for the broader industry.

The Federal and State Governments, and industry representative bodies now need to sit down and work through a program whereby all cattle uplifts are now carried out under full NLIS protection. The relevant legislation is held within State, not Federal boundaries. Tag and read-technology subsidy could be part of the solution, as was applied elsewhere during the system’s establishment phase.

Let’s complete the gap in the NLIS circle, and give the industry’s world’s-best-practice individual animal identification system the full, unqualified, national integrity that it always deserved.


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