Dairy farmers are potentially breaking the law every day, when milking. That was the conclusion out of a court case in Sale, Victoria, in May.
Three dairy farmers from Sale district were prosecuted for alleged transgressions of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). But the Magistrate hearing the case consistently asked the prosecutor why the relevant government authority chose to bring charges against the men rather than provide education about the NLIS.
Clayton Kelly was charged with failing to record his livestock movements every day, when he moved the cows from grazing paddocks to the dairy and return.
The grazing paddocks and the dairy were on two separate Property Identification Codes (PICs), “across the road from each other,” according to Mr Kelly.
He was unaware he had to record the property-to-property transfers each day.
“A lot of dairyfarmers would have the same problem,” Mr Kelly said.
“As soon as I was aware of that, I rang up the department and combined all our properties, including agisted property, on the one PIC.”
Mr Kelly was also charged because a number of calves and cows born on his property did not have NLIS eartags.
“I thought they didn’t need buttons unless I sold them,” he said.
Steven Boulton, who was charged with NLIS breaches for traded cattle, said he relied on livestock agents to transfer cattle between PICs - a common practice of livestock agencies and saleyard managers.
“I’ve changed my system now – we scan everything,” Mr Boulton said.
“If we rely on someone else to do it, we won’t pay the bill until we have proof the transfers have occurred.”
Peter Rosenberg bought a couple of dozen cows off a neighbour and relied on him to acquit the PIC transfers.
“It’s easy to say now that I shouldn’t have been relying on anyone else. I bought those cows off one dairyfarmer but he had them registered to three different PICs,” Mr Rosenberg said.
Magistrate Simon Zebrowski continually asked the prosecution why the three men were not offered education and assistance to acquit their responsibilities, rather than charging them with failing to update NLIS records online. However, he noted transgressions that led to lack of traceability around animal disease outbreaks could potentially impact on Australia’s global livestock trade.
“If there is a disease outbreak, there is a gravity of things if the NLIS system is not updated,” he said.
He noted the accused men had improved their management and recording systems since the charges were levied in 2016. He accepted their guilty pleas, did not record a conviction, applied good behaviour bonds and agreed to them donating a combined $12,000 to charity in lieu of any court-applied fine.
Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer’s department refused to answer questions about why education in NLIS processes was not offered to the accused men.
Agriculture Victoria Manager Livestock Traceability, Ben Fahy, said it was illegal for livestock owners and agents to move animals between PICs without conducting a database transfer.
“This case serves as a reminder that missing, false or misleading information relating to livestock identification and movements threatens the Victorian industry’s reputation for safe food production,” he said.
A government spokesperson confirmed several more prosecutions were pending, including alleged NLIS transgressions related to a non-clinical case of dairy heifers exposed to Blue Tongue virus in the Echuca district last year.
Farmers needing assistance and advice using the NLIS should phone 1800 654 743, email firstname.lastname@example.org or search online nlis.com.au