Federated Farmers' John Blackwell, in his article in the Northland Age (December 4), raises the issues with animal traceability and its apparent poor use by farmers. As it happens, I was involved with the original tag system, designed to track farm of origin. Also, as a farmer I am a user of the current NAIT system.

This gives me close to unique experience with both the complexity of animal tracing and the practical uses of the system.

First let me say I share the concern of John Blackwell, and most of the farmers in New Zealand, that a working animal traceability system is crucial to the protection of New Zealand livestock.

M bovis has highlighted the deficiencies of the current system, but I don't believe farmers are solely to blame, nor will new legislative powers designed to punish non-compliance solve the issues.

'We must protect our borders as best we can. To do so takes smart solutions using technology in smart and practical ways.'

Many of the potential issues were raised in the initial concepts. Let me highlight a few.

The supporting database needs to contain complete and accurate information and be easy to use by farmers in the course of carrying out their normal farming operations. It must be able to accurately model the realities of livestock farming.

For example, an animal farmer could own several pieces of land, not necessarily joined together as one block but 'just down the road.' He could also be leasing blocks from other land owners, may have several mobs, and move animals between all blocks of land in various ways.

All this must be captured in a traceability system without adding unnecessary complexity. It also needs to be able to be corrected easily by those responsible for their animals. I personally have been contacted by the current NAIT system to verify movements of cattle in a different district, and as a deer farmer it's a bit of a shock, and very difficult to correct.

Why not use technology to make things simpler? Why not require each stock truck to carry RFID readers in the loading gate and be connected to a GPS? When the stock truck arrives at the loading ramp, the farm would be immediately known, if the database is correctly designed.

The animals loaded would be automatically read with the appropriate reader and RFID tag. The pickup time and truck details would be automatically collected, leaving the farmer to verify the movement on the spot, as couriers do with their deliveries. A similar process would occur at the sale yards and receiving farms.

It would also track the potential animal contacts that may have occurred in the truck. Simple, accurate and fast, and all done on the spot.

There have been several incursions that have cost the primary industry dearly to date. M bovis is a serious disease, as are PSA in kiwifruit, varroa mite and myrtle rust. We must protect our borders as best we can. To do so takes smart solutions using technology in smart and practical ways.


Finally, over the holiday period, please consider your family, drive carefully, and be safe.