Carve-outs hold back US livestock traceability

Carve-outs hold back US livestock traceability

As Australian sheep and goat producers prepare for mandated electronic identification by 2025, an ICMJ alumni has identified further opportunity to position the Australian livestock industry’s traceability credentials ahead of one of its biggest global competitors.
Australian ICMJ team member Sam Turner toured the United States in January and took part in a series of industry tours, training events and meat judging competitions. During the trip, Mr Turner investigated the similarities and differences between the livestock traceability systems in both countries.

He found that despite the many advantages of Australia’s single mandatory national system that tracks cattle from birth to slaughter, the US systems feature some elements which maybe our industry could learn from for providing a more comprehensive food and animal product traceability systems.

“Twenty years ago, the United States Department of Agriculture established a program called the National Animal Identification System to cover a wide range of species including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and poultry,” Mr Turner said.

“But the program was discontinued in 2013 due to a lack of funding and concerns about privacy and government overreach.”

The program was later replaced by another system called the Animal Disease Traceability Program (ADTP), but Mr Turner found many livestock producers use alternative programs such as the US Cattle Trace Program and the National Scrapie Eradication Program, fragmenting the industry.

“The US Scrapie Eradication Program has been successful in reducing the prevalence of scrapie in adult sheep by more than 99 per cent,” Mr Turner said.

However, he found the program’s exemptions for castrated sheep, goats under the age of 18 months or those moving to properties within the same state, presented significant challenges in identifying the source of disease and effectively controlling its spread.

Mr Turner said any such exemptions for producers in Australia would carry the risk of similar challenges.

Instead, he said that for Australia to maintain its world-leading traceability standards and meet growing consumer demands, the NLIS the program could be expanded to include other areas of the supply chain such as packaged meats, wool and leather and other animal classes.

“Animal Health Australia is currently exploring the possibility of creating traceability systems to cover a wider range of animals such as camels, camelids, and deer,” he said.

“This could also cover other production animals as well as domestic livestock such as horses.”

Mr Turner said the NLIS had the potential to include increased data and information such as sustainability across the supply chain.

“The cost of these programs, especially in extensive operations in northern Australia, is likely to be a limiting factor in further expansion of the NLIS,” he said.

“In the US, we saw how privacy concerns, be it real or otherwise, could derail traceability programs so collaboration with industry stakeholders in the development of any such expansions would be crucial,” he said.

This year’s ICMJ US tour conducted in January 2023 spanned three weeks, seven states, two inter-collegiate competitions and more than 40 industry experiences, exposing participants to the broad spectrum of the US red meat supply chain.

Sponsored by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) more than 130 students over 29 years have taken part in the ICMJ US Tour.

Since returning from the US, Mr Turner, a University of Queensland Bachelor of Agribusiness and Agricultural Science graduate, has taken up a graduate position with AAM Investment Group.

Mr Turner said his participation in the ICMJ program opened the door for his opportunity with AAM and he was excited about the career opportunities that lie ahead.

“ICMJ has been an invaluable experience and has provided me with more opportunities than I ever expected,” he said.

“I am currently in my second rotation of the AAM Graduate Program and I have learnt about so many aspects of the business from budgeting processes to tracking fibre recovery in the company’s timber business.”

• Mr Turner’s full report is available here .