Australia: Electronic ear tags for millions of sheep backed by NSW to prepare for foot-and-mouth disease

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Sheep producers welcome a proposed national electronic tag to strengthen biosecurity. (ABC Rural: Libby Price) © Provided by ABC NEWS Sheep producers welcome a proposed national electronic tag to strengthen biosecurity. (ABC Rural: Libby Price)

The NSW government has thrown its support behind the urgent development of mandatory electronic ID tags for millions of sheep and goats to ensure any outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) can be traced.

Australian cattle are already individually tagged but millions of sheep and goats are only identified by mob, except in Victoria.

The NSW and federal governments had held out against individual sheep tags for more than six years, while Victoria moved ahead independently in 2016. The move was criticised at the time by then federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce as too expensive.

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Now as Australian and Indonesian authorities attempt to vaccinate and control an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Bali, NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said he would back growing industry calls for the urgent development of a compulsory scheme to "bolster the country's defence against infectious diseases like FMD".

Studies have estimated $50 billion in economic losses over 10 years if a medium-to-large-scale FMD outbreak were to occur in Australia.

"Individual traceability for sheep and goats will be crucial during an emergency disease outbreak and deliver the benefits across the supply chain," Mr Saunders said.

He said it would need to be a national scheme "to ensure consistency and functionality across all states, and be developed hand in hand with industry to ensure it is practical and cost-effective".

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It was unclear how many of the 74 million sheep in Australia would be tagged.

NSW has the largest number of sheep with over 21 million, Victoria has 17 million, and WA has 14 million.

Mr Saunders said he would take the proposal to the meeting with all Australian agriculture ministers on Wednesday afternoon, July 20.

The NSW decision to back a national scheme followed a call from the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) for stakeholders to stop politicising biosecurity in Australia.

"We are still awaiting the outcome of the National Biosecurity Committee on recommendations for a national program, developed by industry. This is where the federal government can take the lead," Patrick Hutchinson chief executive of AMIC said.

[audio seg AMIC on FMD]

"Any agricultural organisation not supporting a national, individual, electronic-based small stock traceability program forfeits the right to then demand state and federal governments increase funding on biosecurity."

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"Don't just say you're strong on biosecurity. Prove you're strong on biosecurity."

Sheep producers back national ID

Sheep Producers Australia has welcomed NSW's gear shift.

CEO Bonnie Skinner said it had been calling for the electronic ID scheme.

"[It will] strengthen traceability for biosecurity, food safety, and support market access requirements," Ms Skinner said.


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