eID in Sheep in Victoria – an industry update

Victorian sheep producers are getting on with the business of farming under the new requirements for traceability.  The introduction of individual electronic identification (eID) was a business decision made by state government in response to a need to improve sheep and goat traceability to meet 21st century requirements.  The question was how does Government institute an accurate, timely cost effective tracing system for sheep and goat producers that will benefit industry and be fit for purpose in the future?

Traceability for food or fibre production is essential to ensure that our domestic and overseas markets have confidence in the products that we supply. We are all food producers and in Australia this comes with an enviable record of producing a safe clean green product. This reputation can be lost in an instant. The ability to identify and rapidly trace, any residue violations or contamination issues means that scenarios similar to the recent removal of all rock melon from super market shelves could be averted. The other vitally important reason for accurate and timely tracing of animals is for disease control in face of an outbreak like Anthrax or FMD. The ability to quickly trace disease contacts is critical, if a dangerous contact occurs at a saleyard there can easily be over 100 traces.

In Victoria the decision to transition from visual tags to eID was made after ongoing evidence that the current system was not going to fulfil the requirements of a modern efficient traceability system into the future.  There were three important reports that steered the direction for Victoria; the Victorian Auditor General’s Office Report on Biosecurity showed a need for significant improvement in the traceability of sheep after an Agriculture Victoria study of sheep at abattoirs demonstrated clear areas for improvement. Sheep Catcher 2 demonstrated that as far as traceability is concerned, although there has been some improvement in the past 10 years there were some performance standards where there was little improvement and they were far below the requirements.

The other critical report was Decision Regulation Impact Statement from ABARES in 2014 which showed that in Victoria, eID was the cost effective system given the current level of traceability.

The implementation has been phased, with last year’s lambs tagged and by the end of March property to property transfers are to start at the same time as saleyards start to scan sheep. Most saleyards are now ready to go and have tested their systems or in the smaller yards are using external contractors. The cost of infrastructure for saleyards has largely been met by government grants and should remove labour associated with ensuring compliance in a visual based tag system and so shouldn’t warrant additional scanning fees.

There is increased awareness that managing the so called ‘phantom flock’ associated with increased use of eID tags (both nationally and in Victoria) that are not removed off the national database when an animal identified with an eID tag is processed or exported, is a national issue.  There were over 600,000 NLIS (Sheep) eID tags used in NSW and SA last year.  This will continue to grow.  The problem is not just isolated to Victoria. Victorian abattoirs are already killing off tags, including those issued in SA and NSW. The majority of Victorian eID tagged sheep leaving the state go to SA where there are two processors that kill the majority of these with one enabled to scan eID tags.  The other is looking to have this capability soon. Discussions are occurring with Integrity Systems Company to allow automated removal from the database for all eID tags that are sent to an interstate abattoir.

Victorian producers put 10.8 million eID tags in last year with some starting to see the benefits that can be achieved with on farm productivity gains.  Of course this will not be uniform and will depend on individual producer’s skills and the opportunities on their properties.  Genetic gains can be accelerated with eID enabling early identification of non-productive sheep and benefits far outweigh the cost of implementation.