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National Cattle ID Project

New Zealand's National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) project got a boost earlier this month when the government committed more than NZ$23 million (US$17.5 million) to the country's Agriculture and Forestry Ministry. Initiated more than three years ago, the NAIT project aims to have all cattle and deer in New Zealand tagged with radio frequency identification transponders by 2011. The government allocated more than NZ$10 million (US$7.6 million) in capital spending and NZ$13 million (US$9.9 million) in operational spending in its budget to develop an online database that will store up-to-date electronic maps of farms, contact information and stock details.

Farmers, meat processors and saleyards—where livestock is bought and sold at auction—will be required to ensure that all cattle and deer are tagged with low-frequency (LF) tags complying with the ISO 11874 and 11875 standards. They will also be mandated to record all animal details on the database, and to notify the government of all animal movements.

Each tag will be encoded with only a unique identification number, linked in a database to other relevant details, such as the tagged animal's age, sex, owner and herd of origin, as well as the identification number of the property on which it is located and its history of movement and regulated treatments. The unique number will be matched to an official visual number printed on the tag's surface in case the RFID interrogator fails, or for farms that choose to invest in RFID tags but not readers.

Trials of RFID tags are already underway at more than a dozen farms in Waikato, New Zealand. In addition, NAIT has begun a pilot to test the proposed national animal identification database to develop specifications for the final system, finish developing a tag registry and ensure the system is practical for all businesses within the cattle and deer supply chain. The trial is slated for completion by July 30.

Craig Purcell, NAIT's project manager, says RFID is essential to meeting increasing consumer demands for traceability and information regarding exported animals. "The international market sometimes requires information about meat products, and the farm they originated from, in less than 48 hours," he says.

That was not possible under the previous system, Purcell explains, which included a number in printed and bar-coded form that identified the herd in which the animal was first tagged. Data on properties and livestock was often incomplete, the information was difficult to share between farmers, and the systems often relied on paper-based records.
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