Animal identification and tagging requirements for cattle and deer farmers are set to change from July 1 as the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme becomes mandatory.
While this marks a new chapter in New Zealand farming, it has been a long nine years since the idea that became NAIT first saw the light of day.
All those years ago, it was in the Federated Farmers' Wellington boardroom that the chief executives, chairs and senior policy staff of all the major pastoral organisations came together to decide how the sector would deal with the systems emerging overseas.
Europe had mandatory passport and animal tracking systems for cattle after its experiences with bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) and foot and mouth disease.
Australia had a voluntary radio frequency identification (RFID) system which became its National Livestock Identification System.
The United States had a voluntary tracking system, which later became mandatory after suffering its own BSE outbreaks. Canada had a mandatory system which was swiftly moving to RFID. Brazil had a voluntary system in place and Japan was looking set to require the traceability of any beef that entered its markets.
It was hard at the time to see how these moves by our competitors would not see New Zealand needing its own national traceability system. Successive outbreaks of BSE and other animal diseases across the world saw countries take steps to protect their markets from importing these same problems. As with most things, people seek safety in the familiar. So we could see similar traceability systems being both established domestically and required of imports from other countries.
New Zealand did have systems of its own. The Livestock Improvement Corporation had traceability as a byproduct of its genetics programme. Similarly, what was AgriBase provided property-level traceability which informed the work of the
Animal Health Board.
The problem, though, was the data held by existing systems was incomplete. It was not entirely up to date and generally did not provide the level of detail required to show New Zealand had a system in place which would be respected under the increasing demands of our markets.
Since that first meeting, the journey has been particularly rocky, but necessary for the Federation. Being involved in the process meant we knew what was happening and the reasons why. More importantly it gave us the opportunity to shape what was to come.
We have, at several points, challenged the business case for NAIT, but walking away from the discussions, because we disagreed with outcomes, was never a possibility.
We were committed to securing the best possible set of rules for New Zealand farmers. What has eventuated is far from perfect but through staying involved with the process of shaping NAIT, Federated Farmers secured significant fixes in the legislation to protect farmer interests on data access and privacy. We have also worked hard to ensure the obligations on farmers are as practical and low cost as possible. We have helped secure adjustments to the scheme design so NAIT works better with farm practice and management.
Our work will continue in the months to come as NAIT and the Animal Health Board look to amalgamate, as cost recovery is reviewed and redone for another period and as draft regulations on the use of and access to NAIT data are released.