NATIONAL Vendor Declarations (NVDs) are a key tool underpinning Australia’s food safety standards, but trade feedback indicates many producers are still failing to fill them out correctly.
Non-compliant NVDs have to be amended and re-signed by the producer before cattle can be auctioned or processed, tying up resources for agents and processors and causing disruptions to sales and kill schedules.
A system of electronic NVDs (eNVDs) was launched 12 months ago to streamline the NVD process and to improve compliance rates, but, a year on, take up rates have been limited, with only 13 percent of livestock consignments since then accompanied with an eNVD, according to statistics from Meat & Livestock Australia’s Integrity Services Company (ISC).
The ISC says it is working with each sector of the supply chain to overcome points of resistance to eNVDs and to improve take-up rates (more in separate story).
The Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program requires producers to correctly fill out an NVD when selling livestock, declaring information about the food safety status of the animals being sold.
The LPA is a voluntary industry program, however the majority of meat processors require livestock to be sourced from LPA-accredited properties, and will not process animals not accompanied by correctly filled out NVDs (more details frm LPA here).
Feedback from agents and processors contacted by Beef Central in recent weeks indicates non-compliance rates remain unacceptably high despite ongoing efforts to make producers aware of their responsibilities.
“We’re seeing anecdotal evidence of non-compliant NVDs as high as 30 percent that need to be fixed before sales,” Elders State livestock manager for Queensland, Paul Holm, told Beef Central.
“It means having to go back and forth and back and forth (to get NVD’s corrected and re-signed by producers before sale), and it seems to be getting worse and worse,” Mr Holm said.
Common problems included:
“If it is a question relating to the health status we won’t submit cattle without having that corrected, because it jeopardises the integrity of your product,” one processor told Beef Central.
The initial reactions of three separate processors to Beef Central’s questions about prevailing NVD compliance rates left little doubt a problem exists: “horrible”, “absolutely terrible” and “the non-compliance rate is absolutely enormous” were their individual answers.
One company said it had to employ one person at every plant it operates “just to sort out non-compliant NVDs”.
The problem was prevalent from producers at all ends of the scale from small operators to large pastoral companies (while company managers were aware of expectations, problems typically arose from staff in stock camps not filling out paperwork correctly, one processor noted) and small and large feedlots.
Cattle Council of Australia president Howard Smith said NVD compliance was an “absolute non-negotiable”.
“The LPA NVD underpins our risk management and traceability system, which is one of Australia’s most valuable selling points as a producer of safe, high quality red meat,” Mr Smith said.
“As Australian producers, we need to support the system which adds so much value to our sector. There are no excuses for non-compliance.”
AgForce Cattle Board vice-president Will Wilson said Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of safe red meat to domestic and international markets was built on our ability to trace livestock movements.
While no one liked doing paperwork, he urged producers to take the time to ensure NVDs were correctly filled out.
“It helps ensure our industry maintains market access and meets food safety requirements,” Mr Wilson said.
“There have been measures put in place to streamline the process, improve accuracy and make it simpler for producers, and AgForce will keep pushing for continuous improvements to be made.
He said a representative of the MLA Integrity Systems Company attended a recent AgForce attend a forum at Belmont Research Station in Central Queensland to talk to producers about NVDs and how they can comply with the Livestock Production Assurance program.
Mr Wilson said AgForce was happy to partner further with MLA and other extension providers to ensure information about NVDs and eNVDs gets out to producers on the ground, and to give producers the opportunity to provide feedback on the current processes.
Related article: eNVDs a work in progress
More information on NVDs on the MLA website can be viewed here