In this age of regular online data collection and transfer, the need for an electronic version of the beef industry’s National Vendor Declaration form would appear to be stating the bleeding obvious.
‘E-commerce’ is everywhere, from buying a ticket to the footy online, to ordering and paying for a bunch of groceries from Woolworths or Coles.
But the pathway towards delivering a workable e-dec NVD has been slow, complicated and laborious.
Meat and Livestock Australia two years ago developed what it called an ‘e-dec’ version of the Livestock Production Assurance National Vendor Declaration and Waybill, but it has been widely dismissed by industry stakeholders spoken to by Beef Central as “complex, cumbersome and impossible to use.” Biggest criticism appears to be the way the ‘fields’ operate, which users say makes the document unusable in its current form.
In fact in most cases the current token-based e-dec is not used as an electronic document at all. It is most often simply accessed online, downloaded and printed-out by the user. From this point on it is used in exactly the same way as a conventional printed NVD, with all of the consequent risks of data entry and transfer error, incomplete filling-out and associated problems.
Chairman of the industry’s Livestock Production Assurance program, Darling Downs lotfeeder, Kevin Roberts, said there was a definite need for an electronic form of the NVD, but the document needed to be user-friendly and appropriate for industry’s needs.
The current e-dec was little more than a proxy for the printed version of an NVD, because of its IT problems, he said.
A true electronic form of the e-dec would be a paperless system, remaining in electronic form right throughout the document’s lifespan.
MLA is currently working on a new e-dec development project, described as being still in its ‘early stages’, with little likelihood of a draft form before the end of this year.
“A fully-operational e-dec would allow the NVD to be emailed to the abattoir before the truck has even left the front gate,” Mr Roberts said. “It would not allow it to be saved until every necessary field had been completed. It would also allow a livestock transport operator to download the document and carry it with him on an i-phone or i-pad.”
For reasons including internet service access and computer uptake among older producers, paper-based, printed NVDs would be necessary for a while yet, Mr Roberts said, but for those whose technology would allow it and were willing to embrace it, e-decs were the way of the future.
“I agree with the sentiment behind an e-dec, but we need to do this in a nice gentle way that does not leave any stakeholders behind. But it’s the right thing for the future.”
SafeMeat chairman Ross Keane said the ideal, as discussed in the recent SafeMeat industry review, was to go to an electronic-only NVD at some future point.
For a Queensland beef producer sending cattle to Dinmore, for example, the electronic format would include a field listing various ‘send’ destinations, and the Dinmore option would be selected and the document is sent. Equally easily, Moreton Saleyards could be selected for a consignment of saleyards cattle, and the information would be automatically transferred, populating the pre-sale and post-sale records.
“That would be a huge step ahead: it would rule-out all these transcription error and incomplete documentation problems overnight,” Mr Keane said.
An e-dec would also have considerable advantages when an export market made sudden, unexpected changes to import requirements. For example when Russia introduced a zero tolerance for oxytetracycline residues in meat or offal in 2012, the necessary changes could be made instantly to the electronic form of the document, instead of weeks or months as the printed NVD books were modified to reflect the changes.
While it did not include a time schedule, SafeMeat’s review recommending a move to e-decs has been handed down and accepted by industry partners, together with combining the databases of the NVD system and NLIS into a common platform.
Another part of the recommended reform process will be the establishment of a national Property Identification Code (PIC) register. Currently PICs are stored and managed at state level, and use different sequences of letters and numbers for each state and territory.
A committee is being appointed by SafeMeat partners with a view to delivering on the broader vision for vendor decs and related activity. That group will meet for the first time this month.
One of the points of resistance continues to be reluctance, in some circles, inside the producer sector to adopt such new technology. For this reason, making an electronic version compulsory and phasing-out the printed version altogether might still be some years away.
While it might be optimistic to anticipate an electronic NVD to be operational within 12 months, it was hoped that a pilot version of the program would be available for industry scrutiny before the end of the year, Mr Keane said.
While MLA chose not to comment on the NVD development project for this article, the MLA website claims that the current version of the producer e-dec “offers producers a significant cost saving (up to 40pc) compared with the printed version.”
“The e-dec simplifies the completion process as it takes producers through the components of an LPA NVD/Waybill step-by-step and can be printed once completed.”
The current e-dec is only available to producers who hold a current Property Identification Code (PIC) and who are accredited with the on-farm food safety program LPA. The LPA program offers on-farm risk management tools to ensure information declared on the LPA NVD/Waybill is verifiable.
The Producer e-decs can be purchased using a credit card and cost $20.90 (including GST) for 20 NVD Waybills. To validate the e-dec, three copies must be printed and signed to replicate the LPA NVD/Waybill book.
‘Alternate’ vendor decs cloud progress
One of the complicating factors in the development of electronic NVDs appears to be the adoption of alternate vendor decs in southern states.
Victoria’s saleyards association, with financial support from by Victoria’s Department of Agriculture, has set about developing and road-testing its own state-based electronic vendor declaration. There was an apparent willingness within Victoria’s Department of Agriculture to allow the state’s processors not to use the SafeMeat vendor dec, LPA’s Kev Roberts said.
He suggested the move in Victoria was counter-productive, because to be successful, any e-dec NVD had to take a consistent national focus, rather than trying to ‘win a race.’
There are in fact four or five ‘private’ vendor declarations in use in southern Australian beef supply chains, especially in segments like bobby calves. These company-driven documents are basically National Vendor Declarations without the NVD logo on them.
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