NZ Farmer - Changes to animal tracing system ordered with tougher approach to enforcement

Written by Gerard Hutching

Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor has ordered his officials to start work immediately on fixing the much criticised animal tracing system Nait, which he has admitted is "hard to use".

He has also signalled a tougher approach to enforcement, which would require changes in legislation.

At present the maximum fine for non-compliance is $10,000, but in the seven years since the National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) system was introduced, only one person has been served with an infringement notice of $150.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne welcomed the move, saying the Feds agreed with all the recommendations of the recent Nait review.

"Where there are things can be implemented straightaway, we should do it."

O'Connor said there were 23 out of 38 recommendations from the Nait review which could be implemented immediately.

These included:

- Assigning the Nait number to a particular location and not a person.

- Improving the Nait interface to make it easier to enter information and developing a mobile app for use in the field.

- Better managing the performance of accredited agencies, particularly those providing information to Nait on behalf of farmers.

"The hunting down of Mycoplasma bovis has been slowed by the poor uptake of Nait. For the minority of farmers who fully complied with Nait, the tracing of animals for Mycoplasma bovis has been smooth.

"This is why it's crucial we fix the system. Nait is hard to use and farmers have not been told of the benefits of compliance," O'Connor said in a statement.

Regarding enforcement, O'Connor said as an interim measure, Ministry for Primary Industries animal welfare officers would carry out Nait enforcement as part of their regular farm visits.

MPI would also work with the agency tasked with implementing the system, Ospri, to identify performance targets that would allow regular monitoring and evaluation of the scheme's performance.

Most of the remaining 15 recommendations required regulation or legislation change to implement.

Among other issues officials would look at were whether livestock transporters should have a formal role in the Nait scheme and the timing for bringing in other animal species.

Milne said a major issue to be resolved was connectivity, which was often poor in remote regions.

"That's been a huge frustration to people. The ultimate would be where all animals are scanned on or off trucks, but there's not always an ability to get that into the system."

"You need connectivity in live time, and we're not there yet, Milne said.

National's Primary Industries spokesman Nathan Guy said the review had been timely, considering the scope of Nait - covering 11 million cattle, 400,000 deer and 90,000 registered farmers.

He said transporters should have a role to play.

"Compliance has been good from farms to processors, but it hasn't been so good from farm to farm."

Ospri manages the Nait system, and based on its information, MPI is charged with enforcement.