Archive for April, 2011

Centuries of tradition at the Pushkar Camel Fair

April 26, 2011

I have just spent three weeks inIndiawith two days at Pushkar in Rajasthan during the annual Camel Fair. The fair coincides with the full moon and attracts around 25000 animals (17000 camels, 5000 cattle, 2000 horses and assorted buffaloes, goats and donkeys) for trading in two enormous ‘paddocks’ in the sand on the edge of the desert. Total turnover is up to Rupees 100 million ($3.5 million) measured at road checks on the way in and out of town. (more…)

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Reasons for Electronic Animal ID and Traceability

April 19, 2011

One positive move by NAIT has been the recognition of RFID as one definite, if not the only, means of animal ID, in both full and half duplex versions. As a result farmers can invest in electronic tags and tagging equipment, with complete confidence this investment will not be superseded or made redundant by an alternative form of technology. RFID doesn’t require investment in expensive information recording and transmitting equipment, since paper-based uploading of data to the national registry will still be possible, particularly in areas without broadband. This decision preserves the option of alternative methods of identification such as DNA or optical imaging.

Therefore in spite of the delays and disagreements, it looks as if those beef producers still waiting for firm guidance can proceed with confidence down the road towards recording their individual animal details and getting themselves all set up to meet future market access and customer demands for their production. Obviously every producer will have a different perspective on how far they want to commit, but this decision should reflect two factors: the minimum required to comply with the system specifications and how much benefit to their farming practice they can earn from further investment.

In its Strategic Direction 2005 -2008 New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) reviewed current and future market access needs, concluding that animal ID and traceability requirements “will be incrementally built on as time moves on” and “the key question….is when, not if, and to what extent.” In his speech to the NZ Meat and Fibre Producers Council last November, Keith Kelly, Chairman of the Council, stated “we need to drive the national animal identification and traceability project to completion….because there are several instances where the lack of an effective traceability system has cost farmers dearly.” He goes on to cite effects overseas of the very costly international outbreaks of BSE, foot and mouth, and blue tongue,”yet New Zealand sits on its hands and debates how to develop the perfect system for all animals in the food chain.” None of these outbreaks has as yet actually cost New Zealand dearly, but the risk is ever present that one or other disease outbreak could do so at any time.

There’s no doubt New Zealand has been lucky so far and the longer we delay, the more chance there is of a disaster happening. It’s critical we get on with implementing mandatory traceability for cattle and deer as soon as possible, sticking to the present target dates and on no account letting these slip by another year. After all Ian Corney, Chairman of NAIT, has said to me more than once that Jim Anderton is determined there will be no disaster on his watch as Minister of Agriculture without a robust traceability system in place. That rather puts a time constraint of the 2008 election on NAIT getting its plans finalised and in operation.

NZFSA has said quite reasonably that the existing regulatory systems are sufficient to manage known food safety hazards effectively and traceability, as distinct from traceback, is not a food safety imperative. So you may well ask why it’s necessary in the first place, if our existing systems are adequate for the purpose. The initial pressure has come from regulatory authorities, specifically the EU and USDA which have been applying increasing pressure for over 20 years, but also from other trading partners which threaten to match whatever EU and USDA authorities require. It’s now as much about perception as reality, because the major markets’ regulatory authorities want to see hard evidence that New Zealand believes in the importance of guaranteeing food safety.

Pressure from major customers is also getting more vocal. Major retailers and restaurant chains increasingly demand guaranteed food safety for their consumers, as well as being in a position to have continuity of supply of wholesome product. It’s already several years since the technology has been available to the Japanese shopper to enter a product barcode into a touchscreen in a supermarket produce department, which takes them directly to the farm of origin. AsureQuality already has the technology enabling New Zealand suppliers to provide matching farm and producer data, but it’s only a short step to the point where the retailer wants to be able to provide evidence of traceability to the individual animal which produced the cut of meat. Although realistically it will be some time before they can provide a photo of the animal in its last happy moments before being loaded onto the stock truck!

Consumer fears are fanned by disease outbreaks, however small the risk of infection, and retailers or restaurant chains want to be able to assure them they have it under control. Emotion takes over from science very quickly, as illustrated by British, American and Asian response to BSE which possibly, but not conclusively, resulted in a very small number of cases of CJD. So it is important to get over the emotion and bring science based facts to the fore – and the best way our agricultural sector can do that is to accept animal ID and traceability as the most positive tool in our marketing box. It should not be about meeting the minimum regulatory requirements for market access, but about satisfying customer and consumer concerns.

Elementary thoughts about improving the meat industry

April 13, 2011

So much time and effort has been applied over the years to fixing the woes of the meat industry, it would be easy to conclude it’s difficult, even verging on impossible, to fix. In fact to listen to all the talk it should be dead and buried by now. But against all the odds the meat industry remains our second biggest export sector with nearly $8 billion annual sales compared with dairy’s $10 billion. (more…)