AUSTRALIA’S meat processors want all sheep, lambs and farm goats leaving properties to a new location on and after 1 January 2025 to have an electronic tag.
And the processors are prepared to consider a ‘no EID tag no buy’ policy to drive the change if state farmer, peak industry bodies and governments cannot.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson has told Sheep Central as soon as a sheep, lamb or farmed goat departs a Property Identification Code (PIC) location from 1 January 2025 to whatever location, as occurs with cattle, an approved EID should be applied.
AMIC’s position is an interpretation of the mandatory national sheep/goat EID system start date of 1 January 2025 set by a virtual Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting on 9 September this year, but it is at odds with a draft New South Wales implementation timeline.
A communique after the September AMM meeting said:
“To maintain momentum on this work, Ministers agreed to work with industry towards mandatory implementation of national individual electronic identification for sheep and goats in each jurisdiction by 1 January 2025 and that officials will report back to ministers on matters relating to implementation and governance arrangements.”
However, Sheep Central was told this week by federal Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt’s office that subject to discussions between Agriculture Ministers at the next AMM meeting on 7 December, implementation of sheep and goat EID by 1 January 2025 means all lambs and kids born on or after 1 January 2025 must have EID tags, and their movement must be able to be tracked individually using EID.
Yet without clarification on whether and/or when sheep and goats born before 1 January 2025 will be EID-tagged, this AMM 2025 timeline interpretation indicates the traceability gap and biosecurity risk created by animals not tagged electronically might continue for several years.
Under a draft New South Wales plan with a 1 January 2025 start date, sheep and goats in the state are unlikely to be traceable in line with the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards until 2027/2028 at the earliest. And if animals born before 1 January 2025 are subsequently required to have electronic ear tags when they leave a property for sale or slaughter, producers could be faced with the cost of double-tagging animals – visual then EID.
The proposed NSW implementation timeline released last month stipulates that all sheep and farmed goats in the state would be required to have electronic tags for off property movement by 1 January 2027, followed by a bedding down period from 1 January 2028. It proposed the start of mandatory processor scanning by 1 January 2024, and mandatory saleyard, goat depot and property-to-property movement scanning from 30 June 2024. This; however, has not been supported by AMIC, which is concerned about any delay between processor readiness and mandatory tagging of stock.
‘No gaps’ policy must be maintained – Hutchinson
Mr Hutchinson has told Sheep Central: “A no gaps policy must be maintained.”
He said based on current sheep meat slaughter ratios of 80pc lambs to 20pc sheep, only an additional 20pc of animals would need to be EID tagged.
Mr Hutchinson said AMIC had done some untested and very rudimentary numbers on the industry impact of EID tagging all sheep transferred from a PIC after 1 January 2025.
“Across 2025 and 2026 we estimate there would be about 5 million additional (older) sheep in total that would need to be tagged with an EID in NSW with the hard 2025 deadline, compared to the phase in by 2027.
“At $1.90/EID tag, this would equate to about $9.5 million in additional tag costs, plus the effort of retagging if we went with the hard 2025 deadline in NSW,” he said.
“Based on the NSW share of the herd/flock and the ABARES A$80 billion impact of Foot and Mouth Disease, the apportioned impact of an FMD outbreak for NSW is estimated to be $16 billion.
“Going by the risk of an FMD incursion — 11.6pc over the next five years — the expected loss (probability x impact) for NSW is $364 million pa, or $728 million totalled across 2025 and 2026.”
AMIC believes that PwC Australia co-design work shows it is possible before 1 January 2025 to put in place the supply chain infrastructure to read all electronically tagged sheep and goats nationally that leave properties after that date.
“They’ve (PwC) said that from a financial basis, a technology basis and an infrastructure basis we can do this,” Mr Hutchinson told the Senate biosecurity inquiry hearing last week.
‘No EID tag, no buy’
When asked what point would processors think market access and biosecurity considerations would justify instituting a ‘no EID tag no buy’ policy: Mr Hutchinson said processors had not yet discussed instituting a ‘no EID tag no buy’ policy, “but it will be in the short-term future.”
“If farmers feel they need someone else to drive biosecurity within the meat supply chain, and feel that they proactively cannot do it, then we are happy to oblige.
“However, nothing like this has been agreed to yet,” he said.
“Moreover, the call is simple; biosecurity systems cannot have gaps.
“Our trading partners must remain confident in not only what our systems do now, but how they will address evolving issues into the short and medium term future?” Mr Hutchinson asked.
“Having a two-speed program for 20 percent of the sheep population post 1 January 2025 would not provide this confidence.”
What’s happening in NSW and why?
In a Senate biosecurity inquiry hearing last week, Mr Hutchinson said AMIC’s submission was that the Federal Government commit to driving the implementation of the livestock traceability reforms.
“We’re already in a situation where harmonisation is getting further away.
“We have a sheep and goat industry working group that has all the jurisdictions together with the department and individual industry reps, but already we’re seeing jurisdictions, such as New South Wales, walk away from that,” he said.
“They’re now extending it out to 2027.
“For myself, representing basically everyone who buys sheep in this country, I can tell you very clearly that we are not happy with that at all,” he said.
“We want everybody to stick to the 2025 position.”
“Having a two or three-speed economy in this is going to be terrible, considering that over six million sheep go from New South Wales to Victoria every year and 50 percent of all lamb is processed in Victoria on an annual basis.
“As such, Victoria, who are already there with individual electronic ID and uploading to the database, can’t just keep sitting there forever doing it whilst everybody else around them decides in a two- or three-speed process,” he said.
“We can’t just sit here and hope that they get their act together whilst, potentially, we’re still seeing exotic animal diseases surrounding us.
“We need the federal government to take that lead, and we cannot allow other jurisdictions — who may think that it’s more politically advantageous for them — to delay, because that is not harmonised in any way, shape or form.”
Mr Hutchinson told the Senate inquiry that New South Wales had undertaken some preliminary webinars on EID implementation, but had turned from being “the driver” to “now all of a sudden become not even in the back seat — they’re in the boot.”
“They’ve now decided based on a few webinars that the production sector won’t be able to meet the timelines.
“There’s no science behind it.”
When asked by Sheep Central this week if he believed that NSW’s proposed EID timetable has in any way been influenced by the desire of the state’s current Liberal Government to gain re-election in the scheduled March 2023 election, Mr Hutchinson said: “That is not for AMIC to have a say on.”
“We have spoken to the minister and his staff and they have been gracious to provide us with a large amount of time to discuss this with them, and they understand our concerns, and they continue to do so.
“This is an issue for farming groups,” he said.
“As I stated, “We must move away from agri-politics and more towards agri-excellence.
“This (EID) has been in the cattle system for 20 years.
“Are we suggesting farmers with cattle cannot make a total sheep system, similar in every way to the cattle system, work on their farms?
And the current Federal Government position…
Mr Hutchinson said as far as AMIC is aware, federal Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt will ask for an answer on proposed EID implementation timetables at the AMM meeting on 7 December, “but at this stage he has not made a final Federal policy decision.”
Mr Watt told Sheep Central on Wednesday that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments are committed to delivering the livestock traceability system that industry has been calling for.
“We continue to progress plans for a national EID traceability scheme through the Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting process.
“At our September meeting, ministers agreed to work towards national implementation of sheep and goat EID in all states and territories by 2025,” he said.
“This is a major step forward in the goal of a national scheme, which has been put in the too-hard basket for a long time.
“We are realistic that it will take a bit of time to roll out across the whole nation, but we are committed to getting this long-awaited improvement started,” he said.
Mr Watt said the Albanese Government has made a $46.7 million down payment to co-invest with states and territories on these important reforms.
“This includes $20 million to support on and off-farm traceability improvements, including EID for sheep and goats as well as $26.6 million to support upgrades to the database system.
“Livestock traceability is a shared responsibility between industry, states, territories and the Commonwealth,” he said.
“I look forward to continued collaboration with my state and territory colleagues on this important project which will have ongoing benefits for Australian agriculture.”