Owen Hembry

Business news editor of the New Zealand Herald

Electronic ID for farm animals aims to boost biosecurity

Nait will send information to farmers on tagging and registrations. Photo / Thinkstock
Nait will send information to farmers on tagging and registrations. Photo / Thinkstock

A new electronic tracking system aimed at boosting biosecurity by tracing the birth, life and death of millions of farm animals is set to start next year.

The National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) scheme will create an electronic database and is planned to start for cattle on July 1 with deer to follow in March 2013. The scheme will use radio frequency identification ear tags to track cattle from birth, through farms, saleyards and to processors.

Nait chief executive Russell Burnard said cross-party support in Parliament boded well for the Nait Bill being passed after the election.

"This, and confirmation of our system provider, gives our industry shareholders confidence the Nait scheme is well placed for a July 1 mandatory date."

Burnard called the Waiheke Island foot and mouth hoax in 2005 a wake-up call. Nait said it took the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry two weeks to be satisfied with the identification of all at-risk animals after the Waiheke Island hoax, which under the new system would have taken 48 hours.

Nait would send a letter to all cattle and deer farmers next month to provide more detail, including practical information on tagging animals and what they needed to do for registrations and animal movements requirements. The Government will pay the capital expenditure of about $7 million to set the system up and on average 35 per cent a year of the ongoing running costs.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said the farmer body had worked hard to ensure what became law was practical, effective, would have the least impact on the bottom line and would not become a technological orphan.

Within three years of the system becoming compulsory in July about 9.8 million cattle would have to be electronically tagged and registered online, Wills said.

"Other concerns we've expressed, sometimes strongly, revolve around ownership and control of the immense intellectual property Nait will accumulate," he said. "Finally, farmers want to know the data they provide won't be used for other purposes."

Act Party list candidate and former Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said the bill would not improve on what the industry already had.

"Nait supporters claim it is the ultimate biosecurity measure, the ultimate guarantee against an outbreak of something like foot-and-mouth here," Nicolson said. "But since tens of millions more ruminant livestock will be out of it than in, that's a joke."

Nait chairman Ted Coats said a foot and mouth type outbreak would make New Zealand a much less comfortable place to live.

"You're talking about millions of dollars a day if you can get back into supplying markets that are very discretionary," Coats said. "This thing is about insurance at that level for disease and it's also about insurance so that we can say to customers elsewhere look we've had this issue ... but we've got it under control because we can trace back to origin, we determined where it came from and we've removed any product that is at risk."

Farmers will be able to register with Nait from February, with testing of the meat industry in May and mandatory tagging of animals in July, although if necessary some obligations could be enforced later.

- NZ Herald

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