Debate is raging in the sheep industry as a push is mounted in Victoria to replace the current mandatory mob-based movement system of sheep identification with a new system that would require the mandatory electronic tagging of all individual sheep. In this article released today, some of the country’s largest sheep producers, selling agents, processors and peak industry bodies speak out about their reasons for opposing mandatory individual electronic ID.
A group of South Eastern based sheep producers with a combined flock totalling close to 2.5 million sheep has come out in strong support of the retention of the current Mandatory Mob Based Movement (MMBM) system and the voluntary use of RFID should producers desire.
Their position has been endorsed by Wool Producers Australia (WPA) and the Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA), the peak national bodies representing wool and sheep producers in Australia.
In a statement released today, the group says it has been watching with interest developments over the past 12 months in relation to a push by what it describes as a “narrow sector of the sheep industry to justify the introduction of a mandatory RFID system on the back of an Foot and Mouth Disease scare driven campaign”.
Included in the group is South Australian based sheep producer Tom Brinkworth, T.K. and P.A. Brinkworth, Kingston, who has significant land holdings in SA and several properties in western NSW, including the recently acquired Uardry Stud; and Callum and Jock MacLachlan, from Jumbuck Pastoral which has extensive holdings in South Australia, Western Australia and NSW.
The Brinkworths and MacLachlans say they are opposed to mandatory RFID for sheep on many grounds, most significantly because all of their sheep are “vendor bred”, and as such are instantly traceable to all of their properties in the unlikely event of any type of disease outbreak.
“The exponential increase in labour costs and animal welfare implications due to electronic tagging and scanning for their extensive sheep holdings across multiple states, will severely impact their business for very little benefit,” today’s statement said.
Wool Producers Australia president Geoff Power said that his organisation was totally opposed to any introduction of a mandatory RFID system to trace sheep movements across the country.
“We have been in contact with all sectors of the industry on this matter and our feedback is that the current MBM system is more than adequate to enable any tracing requirements in the highly unlikely event of any type of disease outbreak”, Mr Power said.
Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive officer Ron Cullen said it was extremely important that industry and Government work together to implement the nationally agreed visual mob-based system.
“It can meet our traceability requirements and it can deliver on the recommendations in the Matthews report (into Australia’s FMD preparedness),” said Mr Cullen. “But all government and industry sectors must be fully committed and engaged. It is imperative that everyone in the sheep industry get behind the visual mob based system now.”
The group has also pointed to the outcomes of the recent “Exercise Tuckerbox" conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the Livestock Health and Pest Authorities as proof the exsting mob-based system works.
“So well in fact the response time to trace in excess of 420,000 sheep and cattle across nearly 2300 properties, saleyards and abattoirs was achieved within 12 hours, which is half the time required under the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards,” the statement said.
“This prompted the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries and Small Business to state that, ‘the success of the exercise suggests there is no need to move to a radio frequency identification system for sheep traded on the domestic market as long as producers ensure all sheep are tagged and accompanied by the appropriate National Vendor Declaration forms and documentation’.”
Roger Fletcher, Fletcher International Exports, Dubbo, NSW, which processes up to 4,5 million sheep and lambs annually and runs around 100,000 sheep on several properties in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, has also added his weight to the anti-individual electronic tagging push.
Mr Fletcher says he is a strong advocate for anything that improves and enhances the sheep industry, but only if it is practical, cost effective and manageable.
“Fletcher International has systems in place that, combined with the MBM system, can track animals back to their property of origin within minutes”, he said.
“And as all our own sheep on our properties are vendor bred, the imposition of any requirement for mandatory RFID tagging of our annual sell-off from all our sheep enterprises, would be of little benefit coupled with a huge extra expense and animal welfare risk, which we currently do not have”.
As a practical business solution, Mr Fletcher suggested: “Wouldn’t our industry be in a safer and more economical position by spending 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 involved in the industry.
“Eliminating these risks, especially wild dogs, would have the added bonus of significantly improved lambing survival rates, thus increasing producers profitability and, in my opinion, the eradication of wild pigs would be of greater benefit to our industry than the introduction of mandatory RFID.”
The Stock and Station Agency sector is “totally and acutely aware of the impact of any potential disease outbreak, and have all signalled their total cooperation of the current system,” Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association ceo Andy Madigan said.
“Should any disease outbreak occur agents will be there, at any hour of the day or night to assist.
“The most crucial tool for traceability is the NLIS Database, not the type of tag in the ear.”
Joining their counterparts in Victoria and SA, several NSW breeders, including, Anthony and Paul Martin, Cassilis, and Michael Martin of Coolah, also raised their strong concern and total opposition to any mandatory introduction of RFID for sheep.
“Currently we are in total support and very happy with the MBM system and our compliance and attention to detail, are clearly evidenced by the recent Excercise Tuckerbox results conducted by the NSW DPI”, they said.
Graham Morphett of the Alma Merino Stud, Booligal, speaking as the President of the Hay Merino Breeders, said compulsory electronic individual ID would have huge ramifications in many areas, none more so than events such as the recent Hay sheep sale, where approximately 55,000 sheep were yarded and sold.
“This is an iconic event and one that must not be compromised by any mandatory RFID requirements that would surely result in a smaller offering due to the logistics of scanning 55,000 sheep in and out of the yards in a timely fashion”, Mr Morphett said.
Speaking as an individual stud Merino breeder, Mr Morphett said he had “no issue whatsoever” with any stud or commercial breeder using electronic tags for management purposes in their enterprise, however, “it must remain voluntary not mandatory”.
Other prominent producers of “vendor bred” sheep, including Robert McBride of Tolarno station in the western division of NSW; Keith McBride, chairman of AJ and PA McBride Pty Ltd which runs numerous properties in the south-east and north of SA; James Morgan, who represents the Mutooroo Pastoral group which controls vast areas in the north east of SA and into NSW; John Lindner, on behalf of the Lindner family’s Wonga operation around Morgan and Bruce Nutt, representing several properties under the Nutt family umbrella in the Port Augusta and north east regions of SA, have added their voice of support, saying they are happy with the current system and could not understand why Victoria would want to isolate themselves and seek to impose a system that raises more questions than it answers.
A group of Victorian based producers, lead by Clive McEachern, Wingiel, Wingeel, and including Peter Coy, Salt Creek Pastoral Co, Woorndoo, Paul Walton, Wurrook, Rokewood and Jeremy Upton, Yarram Park, Willaura, say they are angry that a “minority of self-interested parties and the DPI” in their state is attempting to introduce a costly, untested and inefficient system upon all producers, that they believe will return almost zero benefit and will result in the exit of some sheep and wool growers.
They maintain it will create unnecessary animal welfare and livestock movement issues on a scale not seen before.
“Why would anyone consider introducing a system that will penalise 90/95pc of our sheep and lamb producers that are doing the right thing?," Mr McEachern said.
“The relevant state authorities should be working to remedy the problems that very few are alleged to be creating with issues for “non vendor bred” mobs in feedlots, saleyards and abattoirs.
“Indeed producers, agents, processors and saleyards have all said since day one, that if there are cases of non compliance, by anyone in the industry, then expiate and fine them.
“And why is it that in Victoria currently it is not a mandatory requirement to transfer all movements of sheep sold between properties – surely if the VIC DPI is worried about an FMD outbreak they would be in line with the rest of the country on this.”
The group says it is also concerned that, while the focus has been largely directed at saleyards, questions surrounding private sales between producers, on property ram sales, sheep exhibiting at Royal and regional shows, multi vendor ram sales conducted at showgrounds or events such as the Hamilton Sheepvention, all remain largely unanswered.
AuctionsPlus has become an increasingly popular selling outlet with current throughput at around two million sheep annually, and a system that “ticks all the animal welfare and livestock best handling practice boxes”.
The management of AuctionsPlus is also concerned about how the system could be affected by the proposed requirements.
“All sheep sold on AuctionsPlus are treated the same as private paddock sales or Property to Property Sales, delivered directly from the vendor's property to the buyer’s property and under the current MBM system the buyer is responsible to complete the NLIS transfer to the MLA database,” AuctionsPlus general manger Gary Dick explained.
“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 – all this will greatly increase the risk of, biosecurity, animal welfare and driver fatigue issues and penalise producers.”
Another area of concerns surrounds inter-property transfers, particularly during times when seasonal conditions require producers to transfer sheep between properties in times of drought.
“A mandatory requirement to scan hundreds of thousands of sheep in a drought situation will become an animal welfare situation that must to be avoided at all cost,” the group said.
This group says it is calling on all sheep producers around Australia to gather information on the implications and cost of a mandatory RFID scheme and to lobby their respective state farmer and Government agency organisations about the benefits and value of the existing MBM system.
National Livestock Operations Manager of Elders Chris Howie said: “Elders would like to remind all industry participants, that current NLIS (Sheep and Goats) National Business Rules and State Legislation require that all sheep and goats must be identified with an approved NLIS tag/device prior to being moved to another property with a different Property Identification Code.
“In this context, another property also means a saleyard, abattoir, feedlot, export depot or showground.
“Whilst supporting all stud and commercial breeders who currently use electronic tags as a flock management tool to enhance their breeding programs, Elders also strongly supports the current paper based MBM system for both large and small commercial producers”.
“Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, all Australian sheep, located anywhere in the world, can be readily identified back to their property of birth by simply reading the PIC number that is printed on the approved NLIS tag in the ear,” Mr Howie said.
The group has also questioned how mandatory electronic sheep ID would be funded. “The CIE report estimates that over 10 years, using current pricing, the cost will be around $816 million and this does not include increased labour costs, animal welfare issues due to an increase in animal movements, occupational health and safety or any other ancillary costs that will be incurred by all sectors.”