The Government has stepped into a stoush over a new electronic tracking system for animals, promising farmers it will not finally commit until after a business study.
The National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) system is designed to protect access to export markets and ensure a faster response to any biosecurity crisis such as foot and mouth.
The system - initially focused on cattle and deer - would track all animal movement between farms, saleyards and processors using radio frequency tags on ears, scanners and a database.
The current two-tag system uses a paper trail.
However, representative body Federated Farmers has questioned the benefits of the system, saying some of the claims made are unrealistic.
Biosecurity Minister David Carter yesterday said there seemed to be some scaremongering over the proposed scheme.
"The emotion needs to be taken out of this debate and the facts considered."
Federated Farmers had raised legitimate concerns about compliance costs and the economics of any scheme had to be affordable, Carter said.
A second stage business study from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry would be completed in June.
"I want to reassure farmers
that until the full cost benefit analysis of the scheme is complete, the Government is not going to make a final commitment," Carter said.
Existing food safety systems were world class but there were gaps and current schemes did not provide the lifetime traceability of individual animals that other countries were now implementing, he said.
Nait chairman Ian Corney said the system was about future-proofing agriculture.
"We're passing our international audits now, but it could be a different story in the future," Corney said.
"We don't want to be in a position like Australia where lifetime traceability has been forced on industry to meet European Union requirements."
The Nait Governance Group was expected to begin building the system in June. It would go live on a voluntary basis in June 2010 before becoming compulsory by July 2011.