By Boyd Champness

THE cattle industry breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when it was announced that the European Union had accepted Australias proposed animal identification scheme.

According to the Stock and Land, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) received the good news through a Brussels-based employee, ensuring that the premium A$91 million (£36.5m/7000 tonne) trade would continue.

National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) steering committee chairman John Wyld met federal and state government officials on Thursday (29 July) to discuss the schemes implementation.

But not everyone is pleased by the sudden turn of events. Stock agents in Victoria have accused AQIS officials of caving in to EU demands on some of the more stringent protocols, in particular, the separating of licensed and non-licensed cattle at saleyards.

David Pollock, executive director of the Victorian Stock Agents Association, told The Weekly Times that AQIS had failed to convince the Europeans that current protocols for identifying HGP-free livestock were more than adequate.

“I dont even think its the EU dictating whats happening, its just the Australians mucking it up at this end,” he told the paper.

One of the key EU demands was that all stock should be bought from licensed properties where farmers have declared they do not use hormone growth promotants.

“The real problem is that AQIS has agreed that these cattle should be separated from other non-licensed properties cattle at the saleyards,” Mr Pollock said.

AQIS meat inspection director Brian Macdonald told The Weekly Times that the Europeans wanted Australia to develop a closed system that excluded cattle from non-licensed properties from birth to slaughter.

“At the moment we cant even trace a lot of cattle back to properties because the saleyards are just not keeping adequate records,” Mr Macdonald said.

“What we need is a iron-cast guarantee that all livestock are permanently identified and recorded as they enter and leave the saleyards.”

Nevertheless, stock agents remain opposed to separate day yardings for EU-bound cattle because of the additional cost and logistical problems.

“Cattle cant catch HGP from each other, so we dont need separate days for yardings of EU cattle,” Mr Pollock said.

“All we really need to ensure is that all cattle are adequately identified as part of the NLIS.”

But the major problem the industry finds itself in is that the NLIS is not due to be implemented for at least another eight months.

Stock agents have until 4 December – when EU officials fly out to inspect the NLIS – to convince the EU and AQIS of measures other than separating cattle at saleyards.