Opinion: Call on us when what you've got works

By Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Industry Group chairperson Miles Anderson

OPINION: Nobody would agree more than me that the nation's current cattle and deer tracing system is an important tool.

We need to be able to have traceability of our livestock, but more than that, we need to make sure the system in place is fit for purpose.

The Mycoplasma bovis outbreak revealed the shortcomings of the country's biosecurity defences. OSPRI is scrambling to make changes to improve the old system, and MPI has trained more National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) officers to ensure compliance - however, this is cold comfort to those who have been impacted by the disease and its response. 

Work on the NAIT scheme should have been already completed.

The thought of introducing additional animals to the scheme such as sheep - bureaucrats want individual electronic tagging of sheep - at this stage does nothing to give me comfort that the decision makers know what they are asking of farmers.  

Damien O'Connor and Miles Anderson at 2019 Meat & Wool Council.
Damien O'Connor and Miles Anderson at 2019 Meat & Wool Council. Photo credit: Federated Farmers.

Let's run through a couple of Sheep Tagging 101 issues;  high tag loss - do you think a sheep is no longer going to rub against something or put its head through a fence so as not to pull out its ear tag?  Nope. Sheep do not always follow the rules put down for them.  

Moreover, what about the poor little lambs? Have you actually seen the size of the tags compared to the size of their ears?  The tag has the potential to weigh down the lamb's ear and head to the point it is dragging on the ground unable to do little else but aimlessly walk around in circles due to the tag's weight, well not really but you get the picture.

There is merit in tagging sheep; however, until affordable and practicable technology becomes available to all farmers, the proposal is an unrealistic expectation. If you want traceability, the Government needs to KISS - keep it simple, stupid - and get the current processes right before attempting to introduce unrealistic and onerous regulations onto the general sheep farming community.

Let's have some meaningful consultation. Let's start a real conversation about what can be done better when we work together. 

Until the current system is shown to work as intended, the conversation is not worth having.

Miles Anderson is Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Industry Group chairperson.