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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26740


Senator HARRIS (9:27 PM) —I seek leave to incorporate a document on an electronic livestock identification system, with amendments to the document that has been circulated.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

ELECTRONIC LIVESTOCK IDENTIFICA-TION SYSTEM

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, The Hon Warren Truss, has not answered my questions on Notice from May 3rd, 2004 about that touchy subject, the National Livestock Identification System.

Queensland is a pretty big player in the Australian cattle industry carrying 11.5 million head or 41 per cent of the entire 27.9 million national herd. The gross value of beef cattle farming in Queensland is $2.873 million, representing 46 per cent of the national total of $6,412.6 million.

Beef producers in my home state of Queensland naturally want to protect this huge industry and keep trading with our overseas and domestic customers. They are adamant they already have in place the best individual animal trace-back system operating in the world today.

After a false start three years ago, the Victoria Government threw $5m into the scheme when they realised they needed readers for the electronic tags to be read. Today it remains in a shambles. Some producers still have not tagged stock, the database is at least six weeks behind and all cattle will not be tagged until January next year, when the system officially begins.

Because of this chaos, cattle fixed with eNLIS tags in Victoria still have to carry tail tags, because this is the only reliable method of identifying the property of origin.

Then MLA will be able to estimate the actual cost to producers. My best advice from the industry is $37 a head, under Queensland conditions.

Our new free trade partner, the US will not enforce mandatory eNLIS. In fact their producers too are against it.

On July 16 this year, at a Sorroco, New Mexico meeting of cattle producers, the United States Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Bill Hawks said of NLIS: “... this is a voluntary system, that we're talking about these (implementation) dates, even if they exist, there's certainly not anything mandatory ...”

The USDA says their system will be voluntary, technology neutral and privacy protected, even from their federal bureaucracy, unlike Australia where the taxation office will have the capability to monitor every cattle transaction.

Australia should be following the US system.

In Quebec, Canada, the government put up $20m to implement NLIS for only 1 million cattle, and according to the industry their system too is a mess, largely unworkable.

Over the past 12 months Queensland producers called at least five major regional meetings to discuss NLIS. Every meeting rejected eNLIS overwhelmingly.

Cattle breeders have been asked to sign a blank cheque whilst MLA is subsidising detection readers at saleyards and loading facilities. Producers who have been in the industry for the past 40 years are all too familiar with the failed legacies of former industry leaders and their projects such as Fututech, CALM, Viascan, Cattlecare and so on.

Queensland's largest producer body, Agforce, has ignored the wishes of the majority of its 7000 odd members. It says eNLIS must be industry driven yet Agforce seconded the original resolution for mandatory eNLIS at a Cattle Council of Australia meeting three and a half years ago. The Agforce representative then voted for it.

Agforce Cattle chairman Peter Kenny is also a member of the Queensland Compulsory Implementation Committee.

The Cattle Council Australia (CCA) and Agforce should accept the blame for compulsory eNILS and for Agforce to salvage any credibility it needs to tell the Queensland Government eNLIS is doomed to fail and will not work in Queensland.

The CCA for the past 10 years has not had a representative who lives in the north of Queensland, someone who understands the vagaries of the region.

It seems there is little expertise in the CCA today, but more importantly the majority of producers on that council have minimal investment in the industry.

The 30 year old National Livestock tail tag system presently in use today in Queensland satisfies our overseas customers. In the case of disease breakout or residue contamination the present system has already proven its worth.

Our overseas customers are more concerned about cost of our product, and will desert us on this basis alone. eNLIS will force up production costs so much that this will probably happen in any case.

Japan has just imported 220 tonnes of beef from Mexico. Mexico has no traceback system. (AMIC newsletter)

North Queensland breeders say eNLIS will not work under their conditions. In my district it is not uncommon for large properties to carry between 5 to 20 thousand head of breeding cattle.

At a $37 per head birth-to-slaughter costing, to include extra handling, improved facilities, readers, bruising, saleyards extra handling and other welfare problems, the producer again cops the cost, that cannot be passed on to the consumer, who gets no benefit from this unnecessary system.

The overwhelming majority of Queensland producers accept the present tail tag system because it is

cost effective

accepted by the entire industry

been delivering well for many years

is able to be audited

is enforceable

accepted by overseas and domestic customers

producers are prepared to work with overseas customers to streamline the system if necessary.

Meat processors and feedlotters are now calling for mandatory eNLIS, but refuse to share the cost. Breeders will have to wear it.

Producers have given me many examples of how this system will fail because it is unworkable.

Up to half of Queensland's beef producers do not have access to the internet or are not skilled in the use of computers.

How then are they going to report cattle movements between their own properties within 48 hours if they have different property identification codes or read and transfer data to the database where cattle are received within 48 hours on completion of receival?

Saleyards or agents will charge to read e-tags on sale cattle. Consignments will have to be sent at least one or even two days earlier to allow time for reading tags and rectifying wrong readings.

What will the animal welfare mob have to say about holding cattle this long without adequate feed or shelter? What about the extra cost of weight-loss and stress?

If two different mobs of e-tagged cattle get mixed up at a saleyards, all would have to be passed through a reader, then the file taken to a computer to access the database to line up the 16 digit numbers with the property identification code, get the cattle back into the race, read them one at a time then find the pen in which they belong.

Smaller saleyards will be forced to close because of inadequate infrastructure. Producers will revert to selling cattle privately on a large scale. This has already begun through the internet.

When this occurs eNLIS will collapse and MLA can kiss their $3.50 per head transaction levy goodbye.

What takes ownership precedence when cattle arrive at the abattoir minus an e-tag?

Does the processor rely on the firebrand to establish ownership? This will be fraught with danger because that animal could have changed hands three times since the firebrand was applied at six months of age.

No wonder the meatworks are clambering over each other to have compulsory eNLIS with no exemptions.

The Australian Meat Industry Council has already said it will discount cattle at meatworks if the tag is missing. What they haven't said is by how much.

As I have said Canada is not following our eNLIS. Under their scheme cattle will not be read until arriving at the abattoir.

Europe has trialled the eNLIS for six years with more than 1 million animals, and their industry says it is still unsatisfactory.

The Northern Territory government has realised what it will cost their industry and rejected eNLIS for intrastate stock movements, but require e-tags for interstate transactions.

The Queensland Government needs to be told the truth of eNLIS and what it will cost the state. It is not getting the full story from industry bodies that for some reason continue to push for its implementation, in spite of total opposition from a majority of their members.

There are many more issues surrounding eNLIS as to why it should be dumped immediately in favour of the present system.

I have producers contacting my office frequently asking what I can do about it.

The Queensland Opposition and their Federal counterparts have been silent on this issue, just as they are on most things of importance that the socialist Queensland Labor Government is doing to stymie food producers in every way possible.

Will the senate give this issue the scrutiny it deserves?

Response to Cattle Council's Examination of ABA's NLIS Cost Summary.

By Josie Angus

It is impossible to fully cost a system that has not been successfully trialled anywhere in the world. Victoria is only around 1/3 of the way to mandatory NLIS. They currently only record movements of store cattle through sale yards, prime cattle are not recorded and no inter property movements are recorded.

There is no single figure for every producer ABA has never said otherwise there are however substantial costs that will occur on an industry level not just on farm. It is imperative that producers are given all the facts to calculate their own cost and then be able to add on costs that will be incurred by the entire industry because these costs always migrate back to the last link in the chain, the producer.

The exemptions or pathways are of little comfort to producers. A substantial percentage of producers do not qualify and their long term survival is doubtful. AMIC. The National Agents Assoc and the southern states have stated they do not support them and the chairman of QNIC, Peter Milne has a direct conflict of interest as he is on the board of Animal Health Australia. AHA's performance standards that underpin NLIS state that “there will be a transition period during which the capacity of each jurisdiction is less than absolute. This transition stage will not end until the requirement for all livestock to be tagged.” This gives us little confidence in the pathways system and I believe it is a smoke screen to lull producers into a false sense of security.

To refute CCA's claims

1. Weight loss due to extra handling—fact. They state “NLIS devices only need to be fitted as cattle leave the property.” You have to restrain an animal in a head bail to tag it and any producer knows that you cannot restrain a prime animal in a head bail immediately prior to slaughter. The bruising and dark cutting costs on each carcass would alone blow $37 out of the water. The same goes for store stock if you tried to load cattle up a race immediately after tagging them up a race it would be a very difficult task to load them onto a truck. This has been proven by a producer at Clermont who tagged weaners immediately prior to leaving, they had so much trouble loading that the truck driver walked of the job. This lady rang John Roberts of QDPI and was given an earful for her trouble and told anyone knows you should tag at branding. To say that ear tagging of cattle will not require any more time in the yard is fantasy. They also claim “NLIS tags will replace an existing application of tail tags- you only have to look as far as Victoria to see that they are still having to tail tag as well as NLIS tag. If producers did not tail tag cattle would need to be read twice in the sale yard and as one agent stated if two mobs got mistakenly boxed it would require the cattle to be read, the file taken to a computer, access the database to line up the 16 digit numbers with a PIC and then get the cattle back into a race read them one at a time and look down the list to see which pen they belong in. The other point that belongs with weight loss is that in a sale yard like Roma on a big sale day it takes them until 3am just to pen the cattle if all of those cattle had to be read into the yard as well it would take much longer leading to weight loss and dollars.

2. Government enforcement and administration. NLIS is regulation and like any regulation will need to be enforced. There is already a large culture of “avoidance” within the EU market. Avoidance of regulation in England turned into one of the larger accelerants in the spread of FMD. Over regulating producers movement of livestock will lead to people taking steps to avoid the cost and could potentially decrease traceability as producers are forced to “cover their tracks”. The expensive enforcement will not be government but market enforcement. For a start there will be the orange tags. Any beast that has a tag applied whilst not on its property of birth must be tagged with an orange tag. Processors have already stated there will be a discount for orange tags for if they were allowed to put meat from orange tagged cattle into the same box as that of white tagged cattle it would make the entire system a farce. This is potentially more than half the cattle in Queensland that are up for a discount and the uncertainty created will discount these cattle at a store level as well. If you were faced with the choice of buying an orange tagged or white tagged beast which one would you buy? There will be discounts for non-compliance if I don't tag three bullocks in this consignment and they are not discounted why would I tag the three that lose tags before I send the next load.

3. Reading charges. Only the CCA seem to believe that agents should work for free. To say that the agents should buy equipment and spend substantial time and labour for no charge is ridiculous. These are real costs and in the long term will passed back by not only agents and sale yards but by meat works as well.

4. It does cost labour and time to tag, read cattle and transfer data. For a large percentage of producers that own more than one property this will not only need to happen at sale time but also throughout that animal's life as it moves from property to property. At present due to the unreliability of the equipment and the inconsistencies occurring on the database this time factor is incalculable. I spoke to an agent in NSW who had just spent 3/4 hour trying to transfer three bulls. Producers like agents must calculate their time and labour as a cost.

5. Tag and tag replacement. Refer to point one livestock cannot be tagged immediately prior to sale so if we are meant to tag at branding as stated by John Roberts then that would be at least 10% of tags lost on an average slaughter age of 5 years even if industry standards are met. One tag manufacturer has quoted the life expectancy of tags to be 6 years. The cost of tags has been steadily rising we have had two price increases since Victoria became mandatory and if Governments were to subsidize tags I believe this would be exacerbated. Government mandating one product should require some price fixing of that product to stop anti-competitive behaviour.

6. Management tags. NLIS is difficult to use because it is not visual. There are several occasions on which I have had to refer to our cattle's visual ID when we have had trucks ready to load and the reading equipment failed. Any cattle in a sale yard situation will require some sort of visual identifier to stop occurrences like that in point 1.

7. NLIS database costs. The girls at the database currently field a large volume of calls for help with a small portion of producers performing transfers (only EU producers.) Remember no-one in Victoria currently records property to property movements. This staffing requirement will rise dramatically and at least CCA were honest enough in their last sentence to allude to the fact that there will probably be a charge on the database after national rollout.

8. Yard modifications and scanners. You not only need to read cattle on property (80% of the producers we spoke to in Qld will need to read cattle on property due to owning more than one property sending cattle on agistment or selling cattle privately) but you also need to tag cattle. We own three substantial cattle properties and we needed to upgrade two sets of yards to cope with tagging all cattle as they exit and our new yards would require modification to enable a panel reader to work. Many small producers do not even have head bails there will be substantial set up costs for them and many large cattle stations have portable yards that are also not designed for tagging large mobs of cattle. Even those with existing setups must count the cost of additional wear on head bails caused by restraining grown cattle.

The costs are substantial and until Victoria begins a trial of NLIS there will be no estimate that can be close to the truth.

At the end of the day a cost whatever the size must be justifiable. Who benefits from this cost?

Traceability of livestock? Ask Sandy McConnochie president of ALFA and Elders how effective NLIS was in tracing the NLIS identified cattle he bought that were stolen from a Victorian sale yard.

Traceability for Consumers? No consumer will see benefit from increased traceability because the traceability ends the moment the hide is removed and the carcass moves to the boning room. Meat works have made no commitment to identify meat from individual carcasses.

There can be no recovery of cost from consumers because they gain nothing.

MLAWHOSE INTERESTS DO YOU HAVE AT HEART?

The attempts by the MLA and some multinational processors to force a new LPA system onto beef producers need to be closely examined.

As a producer of disease and chemical free cattle, I was incensed that a U.S owned processor attempted to discount stock I offered for sale at Roma on July 15th under the 9th edition NVD. A bull in the pen of cattle I had for sale was originally knocked down to the multinational at 165 cents per kilo but the buyer then questioned whether the cattle were covered by a new NVD/LPA document. The agent advised the cattle were being offered under the rules of the sale—i.e. unless otherwise stated cattle are covered by an NVD 9th edition. The multinational's buyer then twice advised to the auctioneer that `We can't handle these cattle' and effectively called for the bull to be resubmitted for auction. The same buyer then proceeded to bid again for the bull and purchased it at 150 cents per kilo, a discount of 15 cents! The multinational also bought three of my bullocks from the pen covered by the 9th edition NVD at 165 cents a kilo.

PRODUCERS, PLEASE DO NOT RUSH OUT AND SIGN UP MINDLESSLY FOR FEAR OF BEING SIMILARLY PENALISED.

After much deliberation and fact searching I chose to not sell under the new paperwork because it represents compulsory introduction of a quality assurance system which will force unnecessary costs and unrealistic requirements onto producers without altering the health and safety of our product one iota. I firmly believe, and so do many buyers from independently Australian owned companies, that the 9th edition NVD provides all the necessary and comprehensive information for any and every purchaser regarding the health and history of my livestock at point of sale. (The balance of my stock at the Roma sale on 15th July was purchased for excellent prices by these buyers, at no risk to their customers.)

It is time to carefully consider what is happening in our industry. Why are the MLA and some processors trying to forcibly introduce this system?

THE STATED JUSTIFICATION FOR THIS MULTINATIONAL ACTION WAS, AS I UNDERSTAND IT, TO APPEASE THE “FOOD SAFETY” DEMANDS OF ANOTHER US MULTINATIONAL, NAMELY MCDONALDS. A CLAIM, WHICH I UNDERSTAND, CANNOT BE SUBSTANTIATED.

If our producer funded MLA was accountable and responsive to the interests of their shareholders, the MLA would champion that fact that Aussie beef produced under the 9th edition is the safest product traded globally and safer than the product produced in the US. Instead the MLA is behaving like a puppet for the multinational arm twisters. Our industry needs rational leadership, not “bouncers” for the LPA scheme.

The annual paperwork from the MLA for voting registrations is currently appearing in the mail. Now is the time to take action—if you are not already registered with the MLA, register! Secure your proper voting entitlements (two and a half votes per beast sold). Ensure that you vote to help force the MLA to represent us, the Australian Beef Producers who fund the MLA, and not the interest of multinational companies whose agenda is forcing these unnecessary requirements upon us!

Stick with the 9th edition NVD when selling cattle. Support and encourage the processors and producers who are making a stand against the multinationals. Do not be bullied and intimidated, and if you are assured by your selling agent or any other person that the new paperwork is “no problem—it's inevitable—just fill it in!” PLEASE READ THE TERMS AND CON-DITIONS ATTACHED TO THE NEW PAPERWORK. MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION FOR YOURSELF!

Leigh Griffin

“Kewpie”

Yuleba 4427