Farmers wary of Tracing Bill

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 05:00 02/05/2011

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Federated Farmers has condemned a bill introducing a scheme to track cattle and deer, claiming it would let officials seize farmers' computers under "draconian" search and surveillance powers.

The company charged with implementing the scheme has also criticised the powers.

Federated Farmers has warned of "serious tensions in the regions" if the scheme goes ahead without major changes, and has suggested that a levy be imposed on imported goods to help New Zealand contain and fight outbreaks of disease.

From November 1, all cattle on farms and lifestyle blocks need to be tagged with approved radio frequency identification tags under the National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) scheme, so they can be tracked in the event of outbreaks of disease and to give consumers information about where their meat came from. Deer will be included at a later date.

Spokesman Lachlan McKenzie said the National Animal Identification and Tracing Bill gave Nait officials excessive powers lifted from the controversial Search and Surveillance Bill to enforce compliance with the scheme.

"Nait says they will use the powers in the Search and Surveillance Bill, but that bill hasn't been passed."

In its current form, he understood the bill could let Nait officials search farmers' cars and homes and seize their computers.

"That would basically shut down my business. Nait is not a trained professional body like the police, with internal controls.

"I might not have tags on my cows, but is it appropriate that they could come and search and seize my property?"

Nait chairman Ted Coates said the powers were a "blunt instrument" and it did not need them. Nait could get lesser search and surveillance powers for crisis situations under biosecurity law, but would prefer to use infringement fees to ensure compliance with the scheme.

Those fees would be set in regulations, which the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry was currently drafting, he said.

But Mr McKenzie said it was impossible for the group to determine the impact or effectiveness of the legislation until those regulations, which would also cover farmers' obligations, were published.

MAF, which declined to comment on the bill, said those regulations would be released for consultation today.

Mr McKenzie said the import levy could be imposed on "anything that's a biosecurity risk", including raw meat and second-hand tyres with water in them.

Nait could help trace infected animals but would not help prevent or fix disease outbreaks, whereas a levy could help meet the costs of fighting outbreaks.

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Nait is expected to cost about $15.7 million to set up, $6m to operate a year and deliver about $38m in benefits a year.

Mr McKenzie said Nait would not enhance biosecurity, because it did not cover all cloven-hoofed animals, including wild ones.

Federated Farmers supports a voluntary, commercially driven scheme for tracing animals.

The primary production select committee is due to report back to Parliament on the bill next month.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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