These frequently asked questions are updated regulary with answers to queries that people and businesses across the sheep and goat industries are raising.
An electronic identification device (eID) contains a microchip which is applied to individual sheep or goats, generally in the form of an ear tag. The data contained within each eID can be scanned and recorded into the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) database. This is the Australian system for identifying and tracing cattle, sheep and goats for disease control, food safety and market access.
Industry and government at a state and national level have agreed to transition towards mandatory eID for sheep and goats nation-wide by 1 January 2025.
Industry and government are working together to protect Australia’s sheep and goat industry and ensure market access for meat and wool exports.
In the event of an exotic disease outbreak, eID can:
During the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, animals were not individually tagged with an eID and it took seven weeks to trace animals. This delay allowed the disease to spread across the country along with an export market ban of seven years.
In comparison, a 2020 SAFEMEAT exercise traced 99.64% of slaughtered sheep with an eID back to the vendor or property of residence within 24 hours.
Victoria’s eID experience has shown traceback now takes a matter of minutes. The current visual tag mob-based system takes days.
eID for sheep and goats is being implemented now because of the increased international movement of people and goods. Modelling has indicated a heightened risk of a significant animal disease entering Australia.
The recent detection of foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease in Indonesia in early 2022 has intensified these concerns.
Our international competitors are improving their traceability systems and becoming aware of gaps in our systems. Customers in export markets, such as the UK and US, are asking whether Australia has implemented eID for sheep and goats, particularly if their domestic producers have implemented it.
In August 2022, industry and Government at a state and national level agreed to transition to eID for sheep and goats.
eID provides the ability for sheep producers for example to obtain individual animal data for such matters as health, fertility, genetics, weight gain and wool traits. Such data allows producers to make more informed management, monitoring and selection decisions thereby facilitating the ability to improve productivity and profitability.
The ability to trace animals more quickly via eID allows Government to reduce disease spread and to respond and manage exotic disease incidents more quickly. This in turn allows Australia to regain market access more quickly and hence producers can get money back into their pockets (via improved farmgate prices) sooner than would be the case with visual tags in a mob-based system.
eID technology was first implemented for sheep in Europe in 2001 following its foot-and-mouth disease incursion. eID technology was implemented for cattle in NSW in 2004 and for sheep and goats in Victoria in 2017.
The technology works well and will be a long-term tool for the industry Use of eID across Australia will be technology agnostic, meaning it will work across different platforms and systems so any improvements in eID traceability technology can be quickly adopted. This is provided minimum standards are met.
A NSW traceability reference group comprising key industry representatives across the sheep and goat supply chain, as well as key Government agencies has been formed to ensure a joint collaborative process is undertaken to implement eID in NSW.
The NSW Sheep and Goat Traceability Reference Group includes representatives from producers, transporters, agents, saleyards, processors, as well as Local Land Services, the Rural Crime Squad and NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Chaired by NSW DPI, the reference group includes the following bodies:
At a national level, the Australian Government has established an industry-government Sheep and Goat Traceability Task Force, which is focused on national issues such as harmonisation between states and territories to ensure the NLIS database and eID systems are compatable.
These two groups complement each other in delivering a workable mandatory sheep and goat eID system.
The most likely access point for FMD is via the illegal importation of FMD contaminated feedstuffs which are then fed to domesticated pigs. This risk is greatest from people carrying such products in their luggage when flying into Australia.
With domesticated livestock both larger in number and in closer geographic proximity, we can therefore expect that there is a greater risk that the disease would spread among such livestock.
It is acknowledged that despite Government and industry’s best efforts to eradicate feral animals, such an aim is likely to be unachievable and as a result they could play a role in terms of disease spread.
However, this does not mean that eID for sheep and goats should not be implemented.
Australia needs to ensure our traceability system is as effective and robust as possible and look to continually improve over time and to reduce leakage and areas of weakness.
Control of feral animals during an exotic disease emergency is outlined in the AUSVETPLAN for wild animals response.
Our international competitors are also improving their traceability systems and becoming aware of gaps in our systems.
Customers in export markets such as the UK and US are asking whether Australia has implemented eID for sheep and goats, particularly if their own producers have implemented it (for example in the UK).
In November 2022, NSW Department of Primary Industries commenced engagement with stakeholders across the supply chain through a webinar series and stakeholder survey (link to survey).
The NSW Sheep and Goat Traceability Reference Group, consisting of representatives from each supply chain segment, also meets fortnightly to discuss key implementation matters.
NSW DPI has participated in numerous meetings with NSW Farmers’ Association to discuss the issue.
Industry forums and information sessions for producers and those across the sectors of the sheep and goat industries have been held in Bourke and Dubbo. Another is due to be held in Broken Hill.
Targeted education, training and awareness workshops to aid the implementation of eID across the sheep and goat supply chain into the future will be made available for those involved in these industries.
Face to face events which involve the demonstration of the technology will form a key element of this process.
At this stage, the Sheep and Goat Traceability Reference group has not discussed this in great detail except to flag its importance.
More information regarding this critical matter will be communicated once confirmed.
Depending on the outbreak, either an area, state or the whole country will be placed under a livestock standstill.
Livestock movements will be stopped until the extent of the outbreak is determined by state and commonwealth governments, and initial planning is complete. NSW DPI and primary industries departments in other states are well advanced in their planning for a livestock standstill.
Australia will be banned from our export markets the day that foot-and-mouth disease is detected.
Such bans are expected to be long (the UK was banned from its export markets for a total of 7 years after its 2001 FMD outbreak).
The details regarding Australia’s response to FMD is outlined in AUSVETPLAN.
Suffice to say, if FMD is detected, Government authorities will seek to rapidly diagnose, trace and destroy infected and susceptible animals as soon as possible in an effort to prevent further disease spread and to ultimately eradicate the disease.
Sheep and goat eID will provide accurate and timely traceability, which is critical during this process to reduce the time that Australia is banned from our export markets.
Without sheep and goat eID in place, traceback delays will lead to further disease spread, more animals that need to be destroyed and more producers impacted.
Given Australia's export orientation (78% of sheepmeat production is exported, 95% of goat production and 98% of wool production), export bans will have a significant financial impact across the supply chain.
Due to the increased movement of people and products around the world, the risk of a major livestock disease incursion in Australia has increased over time. It is currently considered that Australia has a 56% chance of a significant animal disease incursion in the next five years. These significant diseases include FMD, Lumpy Skin Disease, African Swine Fever, Avian Influenza, and Africa Horse Sickness.
In this case no, they would not be required to be tagged. But they, or the sheep they were bred from, should have been recorded in the NLIS database as being present on your property. The NLIS requires that sheep must be tagged before they leave or move from their property of birth or subsequent properties.
From 1 January 2027 all sheep and farmed goats will need to be tagged with an eID if moved from their property of residence. However, all sheep and farmed goats born on or after 1 January 2025, regardless of whether they leave the farm or not, will need to be tagged with an eID.
Ballarat has scanned 60,000 sheep in one day on numerous occasions. By comparison, the largest ever sale in NSW was 72,000 at Wagga. This demonstrates that scanning significant numbers at NSW saleyards is possible. Discussions with equipment manufacturers also suggest they also now sell a five-way scanner for saleyards (currently Victoria only uses three-way auto drafters/ scanners).
When moving animals through saleyards or to slaughter at abattoirs, scanning and recording into the NLIS database for each individual eID animal is carried out by saleyard and abattoir operators.
However, recording of property to property (P2P) movements will require producers to scan each individual animal and upload their movement information into the NLIS. For more information visit: Livestock moved onto my property.
The Commonwealth Government has announced $26 million for an upgrade of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) database.
Integrity Systems Company is looking to invest these dollars into the development of a new database that has improved functionality, user friendliness, analytics, reporting and cybersecurity.
The new database will be developed separately to the current database meaning that the upgrade will not impact upon the operation of the current database.
The key reason for introducing eID is to improve traceability in the event of an exotic disease incursion. If eID is introduced on a voluntary basis, then the ability to undertake accurate and timely traceability will be negatively affected by those producers who are still using a visual tag under a mob-based system. This would mean that delays to trace animals negatively impacting the whole sheep and goat sector, and leading to disease spread, more animals and producers impacted and more time out of our key export markets.
NSW DPI is currently determining this cost impact and the potential Government assistance options to mitigate such impacts.
Implementing eID will have a cost impact on all sheep and goat supply chain segments. For example, producers will have to purchase eID tags, saleyards will need to purchase and install readers, connectivity, software, and hardware (along with modify yard infrastructure), and processors will similarly at minimum have to install readers along with modify infrastructure.
Importantly, under an eID system, producers will only need to buy a reader if they purchase sheep or goats direct from another producer (property to property movements) where a reader needs to be used.
The current cost for eID tags are between $1.50-$2.50 each (depending on manufacturer and tag type). The NSW Government is supportive of a national tag tender to reduce tag costs as much as possible.
Note: as at 13 February 2022
This remains a work in progress, though clarity will be provided in coming weeks.
The Commonwealth Government has announced $46.7 million to aid the implementation of improved traceability across Australia. Of this $46.7m, $26m is directed towards the upgrade of the NLIS database and $20.7m towards implementation costs.
The NSW Sheep and Goat Traceability Reference group has been working with industry representatives from across the sheep and goat supply chain to determine where they would like Government assistance, such as tags, scanning equipment, drafters, infrastructure, software and hardware.
The NSW Government is also coordinating the likely potential costs and options to inform its deliberations.
The NSW Government will also fund the costs associated with education, training, and awareness.
The most recent SAFEMEAT Traceability Evaluation report confirmed that within 24 hours, 30% of sheep using a visual tag system could not be traced back to the vendor or other property of residence for the last 30 days vs nearly 100% that could be traced with an eID.
eID allows for more accurate and timely traceability of animals. This is a critical element to reduce the time to manage an exotic disease or residue incident and reduce the time that Australia is banned from our export markets.
This is important because delays in tracing livestock leads to further disease spread, more animals that need to be destroyed and more producers impacted. During the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, for example, because animals were not individually tagged with an eID, it took seven weeks to trace animals. This delay allowed the disease to spread across the country along with an export market ban of seven years.
The Victorian eID implementation experience has shown that traceback can now take a matter of minutes whereas tracing using the mob-based system took days.
We know an outbreak of FMD would likely result in all of Australia’s sheep meat, wool, and goat meat (along with beef and pork) being banned from export markets. For the sheep and goat sector, this will have a significant impact. Two thirds of Australia’s sheep meat production, 98% of our wool production and 95% of goat production is exported to overseas markets.
A national sheep and goat eID system will deliver the standards of traceability required to protect our industries more effectively.
This means a quicker recovery from those bans, as mandatory eIDs will provide quicker tracing of animals and therefore quicker transition to respond and eradicate a disease outbreak in Australia.
The challenge with a voluntary approach is that the key benefits that eID provides (i.e. more accurate and timely traceability) won’t be delivered and the traceability system as a whole won’t be as effective during an exotic disease or residue incident.
Producers are the major beneficiary of eID because tracing delays lead to further disease spread, more animals that need to be destroyed and more producers impacted. Moreover, the longer it takes to control and manage any exotic disease, the longer Australia will be locked out of our key export markets.
Given Australia's export orientation (78% of sheep meat, 95% of goat production and 98% of wool production is exported), reducing the time that Australia is banned from export markets reduces the financial impact across the sheep and goat supply chain.
A traceability system such as eID is not designed to stop or prevent an emergency animal disease.
Whilst eID does not prevent an exotic disease or residue incident, it enables Australia to respond in a more accurate and timely way thereby reducing the numbers of animals, producers and/ or consumers affected, and the time we are out of our key export markets.
The implementation of eID for sheep and goats is both a preparedness and response strategy.
Both livestock traceability and feral animal management currently contribute to the management of animal disease transmission.
Feral pigs, deer and other vertebrate pests, which are widespread with high population densities in parts of Australia, are routinely and strategically managed to reduce their economic, environmental and social impacts. This helps manage the transmission of existing endemic diseases to domestic stock.
In NSW, government agencies are trialling targeted and strategic management of vertebrate pests as part of the state’s emergency animal disease preparedness program. A targeted reduction in feral animal numbers in a specified area has been shown to break disease transmission cycles. We are testing our ability to help eradicate an emergency animal disease by rapidly reducing high numbers of targeted feral animals in specific areas, which might surround an exotic disease incursion point.
While feral animals may play a role in the transmission of some livestock diseases, transmission between livestock is likely to be the major immediate threat in the case of emergency animal diseases.
The most likely access point for FMD is via the illegal importation of FMD-contaminated food products. This risk is greatest from travellers entering Australia from overseas who carry contaminated products in their luggage. Domestic livestock are far more likely to be exposed to these FMD-contaminated products than feral animals.
Effective livestock tracking and tracing systems and the ability to rapidly reduce local feral animal populations are needed to manage emergency animal diseases.
eID is an important aid to the surveillance and tracking of all emergency animal diseases, not just FMD, including diseases which feral pigs, deer or camels play no role in spreading.
This point has been considered and was determined that domesticated pigs pose less risk of spreading FMD compared to sheep and goats.
According to Australian Pork Limited, there are approximately 2.4 million domesticated pigs in Australia. In comparison, there are 79 million Australian sheep, which are traded and moved in much greater numbers than pigs.
Pigs also already have a national traceability system called PigPass, which, in recent years includes linkages and an interface with the sheep and cattle NLIS database.
Furthermore, the Commonwealth Government has announced $26 million for an upgrade of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). Part of this upgrade will include improvements to pig traceability.
A harvested rangeland goat is a goat that has been captured from a wild state. It has not been born through a managed breeding program and has not been subjected to any animal husbandry procedure or treatment. Such goats are eligible for a tag-free movement if they’re transported directly from their property of capture to slaughter or via one registered goat depot.
A farmed goat means any breed or type of goat that is not a harvested rangeland goat, is managed or semi-managed on a property and is subject to animal husbandry procedures and managed breeding programs.
There is no change to what is currently required of harvested rangeland goat producers.
Harvested rangeland goats will be eligible for a tag-free movement if they’re transported directly from their property of capture to slaughter, or via one registered goat depot.
This arrangement is consistent with current NLIS requirements for harvested rangeland goats.
There is no change to what is currently required of a farmed goat producer, just the type of tag to use.
Farmed goats will be required to be identified with an approved NLIS device before being transported from their property of residence to a saleyard, abattoir, showground, or any other property.
Importantly, eID requirements will be consistent with current NLIS requirements except that farmed goats will be required to have an eID device instead of a visual tag. Current tagging exemptions for dairy and earless goats will cease once the NLIS approved goat leg-band is in use.
From 1 March 2023, all dairy goats as well as earless and miniature goats must be identified with an accredited visual or electronic ear tag or an accredited electronic NLIS leg band, before they leave their property of birth. This is a legal requirement in all states and territories.
There is no change to what is required of a sheep producer - just the type of tag to use. Just like with the current system, producers will need to purchase a tag applicator and electronic NILS tags (eIDs).
Other equipment, such as a wand /tag reader is not required unless:
Some producers may choose to purchase a reader to be confident that all animals have been electronically tagged and these are working before they are transported, or to record movements of privately bought animals onto their property.
Local stock and station agents will have wands and will be able to assist.