A Pilbara pastoralist has warned a move to make earmarking and branding optional in Western Australia could leave the industry vulnerable to stock theft and biosecurity breaches.

Key points:

  • Early next year, the WA government will end compulsory earmarking and branding
  • Authorities are putting more faith in the National Livestock Identification System
  • The decision follows a survey in which 65 per cent of participants supported the proposal

This week, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) sent a letter to cattle and sheep producers that said legislation that currently made it mandatory for producers to mark and brand stock would be amended early next year. 

In the correspondence, DPIRD product integrity manager Brad McCormick said the change had been approved by Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan after consultation with WA producers and industry stakeholders in late 2020.

“The decision follows finalisation of the DPIRD consultation report, which showed the majority (64%) of the 574 respondents to the consultation survey supported the proposal for both sheep and cattle,” he said.

Northern pastoralists disappointed

Lance Coppin from Muccan Station, 68 kilometres north-east of Marble Bar, said many northern pastoralists were deeply concerned by the announcement.

“The rural crime squad should be pulling their hair out right now,” he said.

A photo of a cow with a damaged ear after its tag has forcibly been removed.

Cattle thieves have been known to forcibly remove a tag from an animal’s ear. (

Supplied: WA Police

)

The concerns come not long after the state’s largest cattle rustling ring was uncovered by WA Police, leading to seven people charged with the theft and sale of 803 cattle valued at $800,000 from properties across the north-west.

Authorities place confidence in NLIS

Earmarking and branding started more than 100 years ago as a permanent way to identify livestock ownership.

Since 1999, the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) has been rolled out across Australia.

The system requires cattle, sheep and goats to have a NLIS tag or electronic device fitted to track movements through the supply chain.

The department’s report said a majority of sheep producers felt NLIS was a well-established system and additional forms of identification had become redundant.

However, cattle industry groups, including the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association, did not support the proposal.

Ear tag

A NLIS tag helps track stock movements through the supply chain to ensure biosecurity and food safety.(

Matt Brann: ABC Rural

)

Mr Coppin agreed it would be a mistake to remove requirements for permanent identifiers like earmarks and brands in livestock traceability systems.

“The NLIS is a plastic tag that goes in the ear,” he said.

Most states around Australia have introduced optional earmarking and branding. Some countries have been banned the practice. 

The department’s consultation paper flagged an increasing number of producers using pain relief to administer the tags. 

Concerns along the supply chain

Mr Coppin said a decision to make the process optional affected the whole supply chain.

“It can affect you if you’re neighbouring with somebody who chooses not to and there’s confusion about livestock identification [and] it affects everybody in a biosecurity pandemic when the NLIS system fails,” he said.

“It’s not just producers. We’re talking agents, government regulatory people, transporters, exporters.

“The entire supply chain is affected if you make it weaker with a poor livestock identification system.”

A lady leaning against pole

Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan.(

ABC Rural: Courtney Fowler

)

Changes come into effect early 2022

The Department said it recognised earmarks and brands would continue to play an important role for many in the livestock industry.

They noted there had not been a significant increase in stock theft in jurisdictions where the practise had been deregulated.

Until the changes are legislated next year, sheep and cattle owners must continue to earmark or brand.

Currently, an NLIS device only needs to be applied before cattle leave the property.

Under the new regulations, owners will be required to apply an NLIS device to their cattle by six months of age in the South West or at 18 months in the pastoral regions.

Is this government decision on earmarking and branding a gift for rustlers?
Source:
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