By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIA is now one of the last major beef-producing countries in the world to be embracing electronic identification after being at the head of the pack four years ago, according to a prominent agricultural leader.

Cattle Council of Australia executive director Justin Toohey said Australia had let its lead slip.

“Were now behind not just the United States, but Canada, Argentina and Mexico,” he told the Stock and Land.

“Customers everywhere are demanding traceability of individual animals, and we ignore the trend at out peril,” he said.

Mr Toohey said far from foisting a practice designed for Europe on Australian cattle producers, the RFID model approved so far in Australia was a fraction of the cost British farmers are expected to meet for the implementation of a much more complicated system.

Some Australian beef farmers have questioned the worth of introducing an identification scheme to appease the quota-restricted European market when European buyers are unlikely to offer premiums for the extra cost and burden.

But New South Wales Farmers Association cattle committee chairman Rob Anderson also urged producers to “think positive” about the new European Union requirements and electronic ID in general, realising the potential benefits of value-based marketing.

Speaking to the Stock and Land, Mr Anderson said producers needed to face the reality that if Australia was to opt out of the $90 million EU market on the grounds it wasnt worth all the trouble of meeting its requirements, other quality-conscious export customers could well start asking why they should accept EU-rejected beef.

Victoria will be the first state to implement the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) after it accepted the Federal Governments offer of one million free radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to the state that goes first.

The first Victorian abattoir fully operational with NLIS is expected to be ready in November.

The new EU requirements take effect from 1 December with an interim database operational until the full NLIS database is up and running in June 2000.