The NAIT scheme, which would mandate electronic tagging of cattle and deer and provide the potential to extend this to other livestock, is receiving a mixed response from farmers. It is european-socialist style agricultural policy, pushed by Jim Anderton, and having been in Europe I am immediately suspicious of such schemes.
The uses of the scheme include:
- Identification of animals for biosecurity reasons, such as if there was a foot & mouth outbreak. The current tagging scheme does achieve this too, but in less detail.
- Theoretical tracking of food from “paddock to plate”. This could be a marketing benefit in Europe. However the accuracy is debatable as the tags are chopped off the animals at the works and there is no guarantee which animal is ending up on your plate, and many farmers have stories of animals they believe have been misidentified using current tagging schemes. Cuts like mince come from hundreds of different animals mixed together so this would be irrelevant anyway.
- Farmers could use the data for their own purposes if desired, but they can put tags on themselves and do that anyway if they like.
- The information could be used by the government for other purposes, such as enforcing the Emissions Trading Scheme. This is extremely worrying, as there is a lot of possibility here for the data to be abused. There is a strong parallel with the use of the gun register to confiscate pistols in 1974 from people who until then were legally owning them.
As you can see there are benefits and disadvantages, my gut feeling is that there are more disadvantages than benefits, but it is a very complicated issue. The primary reason for farmers to support it is to gain marketing advantages for our produce in Europe over competing countries such as Argentina. Federated Farmers does not appear to have an official position on it yet probably for this reason.
I disliked the tagging and central recording systems of all livestock in Ireland, and some Irish and British MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) are currently resisting plans to extend electronic tagging to sheep and goats there (they already have mandatory tagging, just not electronic tagging). The major problem with such tagging schemes is that there is always a motivation to have a few animals that are not on the system (‘ghost sheep’ in Ireland), and this natural inclination to avoid the rules greatly reduces the biosecurity benefit of such schemes, which is the major reason for them in the first place.