Kiwi farmers may be able to enrol in a voluntary national animal traceability scheme next year, ahead of the scheme becoming compulsory, perhaps in 2009.
Ian Corney, chairman of the National Animal Identification & Tracing project (NAIT), says no deadline has been set and there are still some obstacles to overcome, but NAIT is trying to launch the voluntary system next year.
Corney acknowledges New Zealand is lagging behind other large agricultural producing nations in implementing animal-traceability technologies, but he makes no apologies, saying it is more important to get it right than to get a system up and have to put “sticking plasters all over it”.
He says that in the event of a biosecurity issue a system could probably be set up very quickly, as New Zealand could virtually buy a system “off the shelf” from Australia or elsewhere. However, he says, New Zealand agriculture is different, and our stock movements are different to those of other countries, so this would not be an ideal solution.
“We are trying hard to make sure we come up with a scheme that is robust and will work,” he says, emphasising the technical, legislative and market complexities of the issue.
Corney says a lot of vendors and commercial interests are ready for some action in traceability, but it will be a national scheme, and getting it right is the priority. Beef and deer will be the first animals traced, Corney says. But projects for other animals are under way. Sheep may be traced at the “block” level rather than individually, as they do not move as much as cattle.
Farmers attending New Zealand’s biggest agricultural show, Fieldays, near Hamilton, were given a live demonstration of the potential of traceability systems when they entered the show.
Gen-i, as part of its “traceability showcase”, gave each attendee an RFID tag that tracked their movements around stands at the show and integrated with back-end registration systems, to deliver messages as well as offers via attendees’ mobile phones.
David Walker, Gen-i’s rural markets manager and a farmer himself, says an exact specification for a national traceability system is still to be delivered, but it is highly likely it will be built around RFID tags with a central database. He also says it is likely to be mandatory by 2009.
Walker says farmers will be more enthusiastic about such a scheme if they can see productivity improvements from it, rather than it being just a compliance issue —hence the demonstration.
He says the demonstration at the show displays traceability as a “converged story”.
“Traceability is not just about capturing information, but about linking it together,” he says. Walker says the Australian scheme is already delivering traceability across all states and has been driven by the “huge income streams from the Japanese beef market”.
He says NAIT is trying to learn from the Australian experience and make improvements to New Zealand’s system.