The Victorian sheep and goat industry will be forced to incorporate electronic tagging from 2017 onwards. The new system will allow animals to be tracked, and, in the case a disease outbreak, ensure potentially infected animals can be accounted for.
Sheep are currently identified through mob-based visually tagging, which many industry members believe is sufficient. Under the new measures, only Victorian sheep will be required to have the electronic tags.
This could potentially undermine the national mob-based system, with Wool Producers Australia and the Australian Sheep Meat Council unsatisfied with Victorian Government efforts to improve the existing system before moving to adopt the electronic model.
Dr Milne is the chief veterinary officer of Victoria, and has been a vocal advocate of the new tagging system. He spoke to the ABC about the new rules.
Dr Milne is concerned that, should an illness like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) strike the Australian sheep or goat industry, the current systems would not be good enough to mount a successful containment operation. He believes that the electronic system is proven to be more efficient and successful for tracking potentially infected animals.
The new Victorian system is modelled off the electronic tags used for cattle; this tagging system has recently been credited with halting the spread of Bovine Johne’s disease.
Infected cattle, identified in an export supply to Japan, were successfully traced via the electronic system and, within an hour, each diseased animal had been accounted for. As the system had been implemented Australia wide, within that one hour, the transport lives of infected cattle from across five states and more than 160 farms were able to be determined. This successfully prevented the disease from progressing.
In contrast, authorities attempting to track 14 sheep via the mob-based visual tag system were unable to locate all of the animals after a fortnight of searching.
This delay could mean the difference between disease prevention and disease outbreak of proportions similar to the UK’s FMD disaster of 2001.
After that catastrophic outbreak, the UK adopted an electronic tagging system, which meant that a subsequent FMD outbreak in 2007 was more quickly controlled and contained. Unaffected farmers were identified quickly, and so restrictions on those operators could be lifted.
The new electronic tagging system will come into effect for the Victorian sheep and goat industry in 2017.