lambs and sheep

The new service is set to track key traceability data for beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats and pigs

Defra has outlined plans to introduce a new Livestock Information Service designed to increase the traceability credentials of British meat.

The new service would track key traceability data for beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. It is backed by key meat sector stakeholders such as the NFU, AHDB, National Sheep Association and the British Meat Processors Association through the industry-wide Traceability Design User Group.

The LIS, which could also be rolled out to cover poultry and exotic meats in the future, would “build consumer confidence, support supply chain efficiency and farm productivity, enable effective disease control and response, and aid animal health and welfare”, the TDUG said.

One of the group’s main focuses was on creating a system that could electronically track animals throughout their life cycle – proving particularly useful in the event of a disease outbreak.

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It would also monitor which medicines had been administered to livestock, the TDUG added, in addition to carrying information on who kept the livestock as part of a bid to streamline and centralise currently “paper-heavy” systems provided by several different operators.

Cattle farmers are set to become the first to experience the new system launching in late 2019, while the sheep and goat industry will follow in mid-2020, followed by pigs in late 2020.

Defra would foot the bill for the bulk of the project. However, non-statutory benefits, which could add value to British meat products beyond minimum government requirements could also be added at a later date, funded by the AHDB or individual companies, the TDUG said.

‘World class’ standards

“The LIS will help emphasise our world class standards in health, welfare and sustainability,” said Defra minister Lord Gardiner. “Government and industry are entirely on the same page.”

The improved traceability offered by the LIS would allow British meat to command premium prices on the export market after Brexit, added the AHDB, which predicted an upsurge in the number of export health certificates issued.

“The livestock industry, working in partnership with Defra, wants to develop world-leading standards of livestock traceability in the UK,” the TDUG said in a statement this week.

“This will give us not only a competitive trade advantage, but will make us more resilient and responsive to animal disease and will drive innovation, interoperability and productivity improvements throughout the meat and livestock sectors.”

Creating such an industry-wide traceability system would also display the amount of livestock available in England in real time, said BMPA CEO Nick Allen. “It would have the capacity to reduce volatility, particularly in sheepmeat prices, as current import and export figures are often delayed by up to four months, meaning suppliers can buy in extra to compensate and end up with more than they need.”

“When you look at what the consumer is looking for and what their needs are, the fundamental building block that we need is traceability. We really need a system that’s infallible so we can sell ourselves around the world,” he added.

Blockchain would be among the technologies considered for integration into the service, said Simon Hall, programme director for the Defra Livestock Information Programme. However, the delegation expressed doubts about being among the first in the world to adopt the technology for a commercial system.

“The Livestock Information Service would provide us with the evidence to showcase our animal welfare standards, our production systems and hopefully deliver a smoother and significantly less bureaucratic way of running abattoirs and meat processing businesses,” said Norman Bagley, policy director of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers.