It will be mandatory in Australia for farmers to tag sheep and goats with electronic identification tags from January 1, 2025.
- Agriculture ministers have agreed to set a deadline of January 1, 2025 to introduce mandatory electronic tags for sheep and goats
- Electronic tags could help authorities trace sheep and goats in the event of a livestock disease outbreak
- It is already mandatory to use electronic tags in sheep and goats in Victoria
The electronic identification (EID) tags are already used in cattle across Australia, but Victoria is the only state where it is mandatory for sheep and goats.
Other states rely on a paper-based mob-tracing system.
A meeting of agriculture ministers earlier this month agreed to set the deadline for the “important reform”. It is expected to improve traceability in the event of a livestock disease outbreak.
“Ministers agreed to work with industry towards mandatory implementation of national individual identification for sheep and goats in each jurisdiction by 1 January, 2025,” the communique from the meeting stated.
“Officials will report back to ministers on matters relating to implementation and governance arrangements.”
Today, EID sheep tags are selling for as much as $2 each, while conventional tags used in mob-based tracing are retailing for as cheap as 26 cents a tag.
The New South Wales 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.
In Victoria, the introduction of the EID tags for sheep and goats was significantly subsidised by the state government.
Following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Bali earlier this year, the NSW government agreed to support the urgent introduction of mandatory EID.
NSW agriculture minister Dugald Saunders said if graziers didn’t follow the EID mandate they wouldn’t be able to sell livestock.
“If it’s mandated, you will not be able to sell if you’re not part of the process. Simple as that,” he said.
“You won’t be selling to abattoirs if you’re not following the process that’s mandated.”
Deadline met with mixed reaction
WoolProducers chief executive Jo Hall said the 2025 deadline was ambitious and that a lot of work was happening behind the scenes with industry and government.
“We’re supportive of mandatory EID for sheep for biosecurity purposes, contingent on three things: It’s a national database, [a] national harmonised approach and equitable cost-sharing between industry and government for the establishment and maintenance of the scheme,” he said.
“This is about traceability reform, not just sticking a tag in an ear, as there is far more work to be done to ensure a robust system.”
In western NSW, president of the Pastoralists Association of West Darling Terry Smith said EID was not necessary and that the system posed a “massive” work and safety risk.
“The processors and the producers and exporters are currently happy with the existing arrangement,” he said.
“If we have to start tagging full-grown goats, and lots of them, there’s a huge risk … of horns strike to people’s faces to eyes and hands.”
Mr Smith was already dubious about how the tagging system could prevent a disease outbreak.
“It won’t prevent the outbreak, it may make traceability quicker if there is an outbreak, but it won’t prevent it,” he said.
“I mean that will happen whether the animals have got an electronic tag or not.”
Mr Smith also said it could be difficult for people living in remote areas who might not be equipped to do electronic tagging.
In February 2020, a major review of Australia’s meat sector by the industry and government group SafeMeat recommended that all livestock be fitted with EID by 2025.
SafeMeat advisory group chairman Andrew Henderson told the ABC that the ability to quickly trace livestock was central to reassuring trading partners that Australian meat was safe.
There are about 70 million sheep in Australia.