Livestock traceability – why?

Australia’s livestock traceability system has the ability to track an animal from paddock to plate, recording the animal’s movements throughout its entire life.

This is made possible through the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS), established in 1996. However, Australia has been working towards effective traceability since the 1960’s. What is the value of effective livestock traceability? 

The many benefits of effective traceability can be seen in individual business and industry as a whole – livestock can be easily linked to a property and an owner and it allows for the effective surveillance of endemic and exotic diseases. 

The first cattle tracing system was introduced in the 1960’s to help eradicate bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis. This traceability system applied a unique eight-digit code for each parcel of land, known as the property identification code (PIC). 

Australia was declared free of bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis in 1989, with the ability to trace back test-positive cattle playing an integral role in the successful eradication of the disease.

Today, a PIC number, along with visual identification tags, are mandatory for livestock trade under Australian state and territory legislation. These elements are integrated into the NLIS, which forms Australia’s livestock traceability system.

The traceability system has continued to evolve – electronic NLIS tags have been mandatory for cattle in Australia for more than a decade and in 2017 become mandatory for sheep and goats in Victoria. 

Making the shift from a visual tag system to an electronic system has continued to enhance the ability to trace animals in the case of a disease outbreak. An example of this was seen in 2016, when a consignment of dairy heifers tested positive to Bovine Johne’s Disease (JD) upon their arrival in Japan from Australia. 

These animals returned negative results when tested in Australia and the blood test used upon arrival in Japan is known to produce false positive results. Japan’s strict JD requirements saw the animals quarantined and trade with Australia suspended, not only for dairy imports but all cattle imports. 

This included the well-established Wagyu beef market, with Australia importing an estimated 22,000 cattle annually. The potential economic impact was great.

Thanks to Australia’s well established livestock traceability system, a rapid response was able to remove the risk of losing the international trade relationship. 

Within 24 hours, 321 cattle could be traced back to 163 farming businesses in Australia and their disease status could be verified. This provided sufficient evidence to the Japanese authorities that there was no risk of JD entering Japan. As a result, the live export market was re-opened and trading resumed as normal.

Traceability allows us to detect and manage disease as well as maintain our international trade markets, with many countries’ holding individual requirements for specific diseases. 

With farmer cooperation, the livestock industry can continue to grow this world class system and expand its markets for a sustainable trading future.