Animal ID scheme pushed despite FedFarm scepticism

Project to go ahead, despite suggestions of old tech being used

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has issued a notice of intended procurement for the design, development, integration, testing and support of the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) project.

This marks another step in the progress of a controversial scheme for digitally tagging all cattle and deer, so they can be traced to the farm of origin in the event of a disease outbreak or other serious quality concerns.

A statement, co-authored by Federated Farmers’ NAIT spokesmen Bruce Wills and Lachlan McKenzie and its biosecurity spokesman John Hartnell, continues to question the need for the scheme, especially given meat companies’ existing traceability systems.

If this country’s biosecurity shield is “punctured”, they say, NAIT may help the slow process of restoring confidence, but with or without the system, “it would take years to recover [our]reputation if an incursion took place, because we are dealing with emotion and not science.

“Kiwi farmers readily embrace technology where they can detect productivity gains,” the Federated Farmers’ spokesmen say.

“NAIT doesn’t have farmers clamouring to get on board,” hence, they say, the already signalled intent to make it mandatory for cattle next year and for deer in 2012.

Applying NAIT to sheep is a more difficult proposition, the developers admit, because of the higher numbers. Mobs will possibly be tagged rather than individual animals, but a strategy has not yet been firmed up. Partial application to some animals causes scepticism, as some diseases cross species barriers.

NAIT has also been criticised for using allegedly out-of-date technology, in the form of low-frequency radio identification (RFID) tags as the approved standard.

This will not preclude a later move to newer technology using ultra-high-frequency tags, says project spokeswoman Rose Barnes, but that technology is not at a reliable stage of development yet, she suggests.

Scanning equipment exists with the ability to handle both kinds of tag concurrently, she says.

Some of the detailed technical aspects of NAIT such as the RFID tag type have been fully specified, but a good deal of the design, for example database structure and screen layouts, remains to be fleshed out, Barnes says.

This will be the subject of a request for proposal to be issued later this month.

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