UK livestock control debacle suggests NAIT may be overkill

The stark contrast between theNew ZealandandUKlivestock control systems struck me very forcibly when I was inBritainlast month. Two articles, one in the Daily Telegraph, the other in that great satirical publication Private Eye, provided a graphic summary of the state of affairs there, contrasting strongly with the report by our Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on 1080.


The Telegraph’s column, headlined ‘Between a brock and a hard place’, describes the dilemma facing Britain’s Environment Secretary who has to make a decision on whether to authorise culling of badgers which are known to pass TB on to cattle. It appears badger culling would not only be extremely unpopular (remember Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows), but it’s unlikely to be very effective, because firstly surviving badgers that don’t normally stray far from home would flee the culls, thus spreading the disease further, and secondly the main problem is farmers moving infected stock around, not roving badgers.


This brings me to Private Eye which, for those past readers who may recall the thoughts of Lunchtime O’Booze, isn’t normally at the leading edge of agricultural journalism. But its Agri Brigade has picked up the tale of Wills Bros, owners of a National All Breeds champion heifer, who were found to have moved cattle without pre-movement TB testing or passports, as well as having 58 cattle passports for animals that had died outside the time limit permitted for registering deaths.


Also a DNA test of an “inconclusive” TB cow, owned by Wills without a registration number, found no biological link between the cow and its registered mother which would be worrying enough on any farm, but Wills Bros happen to hold the record price for a dairy animal sold at auction, just below $200,000 at current exchange rates. However a full sister sold earlier this year after the scandal broke only fetched about $35,000 which suggests Wills have finally been rumbled, as well as fined heavily after pleading guilty to seven offences.


This cautionary tale indicates the virtual ineffectiveness of animal identification and movement control in theUKand the ease with which farmers determined to abuse the system can avoid detection. After all it took an observant vet who spotted a photograph of the champion heifer at Stoneleigh to report it to the authorities before this was brought to light.


It underlines the benefit NewZealandfarmers and agricultural trade receive from the combined work of the Food Safety Authority and Animal Health Board. The introduction of mandatory Animal Status Declaration (ASD) forms in 2005, the AHB’s TB programme and the ability to use 1080 for possum control ensureNew Zealandagriculture is in a much happier position than theUK, both with respect to TB control and to compliance with the recording of animal movements for slaughter and between properties.


At the risk of being accused of inconsistency, I now wonder whether NAIT’s belt and braces approach is actually essential for the protection of either our national biosecurity or our market access when the ASD already achieves a substantial degree of certainty round animal movements. The effectiveness of NAIT must always come into question as long as sheep are not required to be part of the scheme, quite simply because the diseases it is designed to cover aren’t restricted to cattle and deer.


I have long supported the introduction of a mandatory system of animal identification, believing it to be an important part of guaranteeing access to our major markets, while at the same time providing a cost effective method of improving on farm productivity. However the longer NAIT’s introduction drags out, whether because of the problems associated with designing or obtaining an affordable IT system or lack of parliamentary time to pass the legislation, the more I wonder whether Federated Farmers might not have had a point all along – let farmers decide what they want, rather than mandating an expensive and possibly unnecessary system.


Before I recant completely, I would like to see some rational debate between the parties that explains clearly the cost benefit of NAIT over present control systems and why it isn’t critical for sheep to become part of the scheme, unless this is purely and simply a cost issue.


The debacle in theUKmade me realise how fortunate we are here to have cost-effective control systems that work, so we need to be careful not to impose solutions we can’t afford and may not need.


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3 Responses to “UK livestock control debacle suggests NAIT may be overkill”

  1. free apple ipad2 giveaway Says:

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  2. Sally Says:

    WOW! One could transpose the global warming crusaders CO2 hysteria into your excellent write up.

    • Allan Barber Says:

      Thank you Sally for your kind comment – I’m not sure I’m qualified to write about CO2 and global warming, but I sometimes wonder whether it’s exaggerated!

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