NAIT – Asset Or Liability?

NEW ZEALAND - The National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) Scheme has been given approval to proceed by Cabinet. The scheme has been promoted on the basis of two key criteria. The first is increased biosecurity effectiveness, but initially covering only cattle and deer. The second being market access for New Zealand beef and venison products.
calendar icon 27 January 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

Federated Farmers does not endorse this second and, seemingly, final business case or its presentation to Cabinet

While it’s acknowledged that during the design and consultation period, the concerns of Federated Farmers and its membership were recognised and some key issues addressed, the final business case document fails to provide sufficient confidence that real on-farm value will be generated as a result of NAIT. Moreover, at a time when farmers are just recovering financially, this will add an additional cost and compliance burden alongside the Emissions Trading Scheme and early proposals for a Land Tax. The 2009 Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry’s Situation and Outlook for New Zealand Agriculture & Forestry had farms receiving just 6.3 cents out of each export dollar generated.

Biosecurity claims are an illusion

While the intention to bring all cattle and deer under an individual identification scheme holds some merit, in reality this is a narrow range of risk animal species. It is therefore only a band-aid. A serious biosecurity breach, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, afflicts all cloven hoof animals; the UK’s experience in the past decade being a good example.

If the Government truly believes in a biosecurity basis to NAIT, then the Government must disclose to New Zealand’s hard-pressed sheep farmers that it intends to enrol all cloven hoof animals into the NAIT scheme and when. If it does not, it confirms the biosecuirty basis to NAIT is without merit. The risks also go far deeper. It is estimated that several hundred thousand livestock live on small holdings/lifestyle blocks or even urban centres. Additionally, a large number of livestock are feral. The risk lays less on professional farms, which NAIT sets out to target, than where animals are unrecorded or effectively off the grid.

NAIT’s application must apply to wherever target livestock is kept. This must include lifestyle blocks/small holdings and in urban centres. This will place an additional compliance burden onto local authorities.

No market is demanding NAIT

At this time, no country is requiring the NAIT concept as part of entry criteria for New Zealand beef, lamb or venison. Federated Farmers has verified this with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. New Zealand also has the highest reputation in the world for food products. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority is highly respected and the European Union (EU) is currently trialling a direct interface between our Ecert certification system and the EU’s TRACE programme. This indicates confidence in New Zealand’s ability to deliver results.

On an exporter to client basis, lifetime traceability is being offered in some instances as a private commercial arrangement between processor and supplier. This is market forces in action, where the supplier is being rewarded by the processor for their ability to supply lifetime traceability. Federated Farmers believes, if individual markets require individual identification and traceability, this can be achieved through market incentives between the processor and supplier. This eliminates any need for mandatory implementation, too. We must further ask why the dairy sector is being asked to fund a generous share of the NAIT system for meat traceability when, primarily, their production is milk based?

Individual data protection

Federated Farmers has expressed real concern with regard to individual farm data information and its protection and security. During the consultation process assurances have been provided that legal protection will be robust and ensure NAIT data conforms to the Privacy Act. In addition, access and disclosure will be tightly controlled and will only be available for stated purposes as determined in the legislation. Federated Farmers needs to be assured that NAIT data will only be used for clearly stated purposes and it will not be available to other government departments/agencies or on-sold to private parties. Federated Farmers will be submitting to the Select Committee in this regard.

Data validity

Research on comparable systems shows unacceptability high error rates in terms of data, which negates many of the claims made for NAIT. This is of real concern as it will undermine farmers and, ultimately, trade confidence in the scheme. Again, Federated Farmers believes the voluntary introduction of NAIT, led by market-forces, will verify systems and approaches.

On-farm cost

Ultimately, the cost of a NAIT scheme will be funded by the farming community; this will be via a direct levy, tag levy or some other funding fee. Farmers already have an investment in NAIT. While it is acknowledged that funding to date has been a joint programme between the Crown and industry groups, the industry portion has come from levies paid by farmers via their relevant industry body. By default farmers have been funding part of the NAIT development programme. The $2 to $3 per animal cost quoted by NAIT is misleading and omits considerable user costs (time data entering/updating stock, processor fees as well as saleyard fees etc). Farmers, in reality, will face a far greater cost than the $2 to $3 per animal cost being quoted. Until there is significant rural broadband fibre penetration, it will, in many regions, require the adoption of satellite or 3G mobile broadband.

ICT risk

NAIT will require one of the most complex databases ever constructed in New Zealand. It must be capable of registering and tracing tens of millions of animal movements each year. Federated Farmers believes this introduces an element of fiscal risk to the Crown. Unless managed especially well, our fear is for an agricultural equivalent to the 1999 INCIS debacle.

Federated Farmers recommendation

The Federation does not believe it is in the interests of New Zealand farmers, given the significant economic pressures they currently face, for this system to be compulsorily introduced at this point and time. Instead, a tracing scheme (NAIT or other) should be introduced as a voluntary, market-led system with price signals from the processors to drive stock enrolment. This means a system can be introduced and refined until markets ultimately require it for trade access. Federated Farmers would fully support proposals to run a tracing scheme through an existing organisation, given this will reduce cost and limit unnecessary duplication.

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