On selling of eartag information

October 28, 2013 |

In Fury over eartag ‘spying’ the cause for concern is the proposal of Meat and Livestock Australia to sell to banks and rural lending institutions private information about farmers income.  That can be calculated from that data obtained from the ear tags of their sheep and cattle when they sell stock.

The story provides:

FARMERS are outraged at proposals by Meat and Livestock Australia to covertly sell to banks and rural lending institutions private information.

The farmer’s private information has been about the income they derive from the sale of their cattle and sheep.

A consultant’s report commissioned by the MLA – and leaked to the Australian Beef Association – says 10 financial institutions are keen to pay to automatically receive emails informing them every time a farmer who has a mortgage or debt sells his stock through the saleyards or to an abattoir.

The scheme, which the ABA likens to “spying for profit”, is made possible by the tracking of electronic eartags, which are now mandatory from birth for all cattle in all states, from farm to meatworks, under a scheme administered by the MLA.

ABA director Brad Bellinger said yesterday farmers were furious and alarmed that the meat authority they fund through producer levies was considering using the hi-tech, eartag-based National Livestock Identification System – supposedly introduced to minimise disease spread and maximise trade opportunities – to pass on their private financial transactions to banks.

The discovery of the MLA’s apparent plans will add heat to the contentious discussions under way to expand the mandatory electronic cattle ID system to all 70 million sheep in Australia.

Sheep producers are already divided about the benefits of a system that will cost up to $45 million a year in extra industry costs, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

Victorian woolgrower and management consultant Jim Shovelton, who already tags all of his 2500 merino sheep and lambs at birth, has no such qualms and is a strong supporter of the system.

He believes the cost of the eartags, at about $1 each, is insignificant when the management benefits to the farmer – as well as in broader national disease control and animal traceability – are considered.

However, he shared the concerns of other farmers about the proposal to use the tagging system to pass on information to third parties.

“I can’t believe they would even consider passing information from these ID tags about stock movements and sales in to banks,” Mr Shovelton said.

“That would seem a complete breach of privacy . . . to do that without (the farmer’s) permission. It would be interesting to know who that information actually belongs to.”

MLA spokeswoman Belinda Roseby said the concept of sending information from eartags to third parties remained a proposal under consideration and had not yet been activated.

She said automatic emails would only ever be sent to banks or financial institutions informing them of stock sales, if the producer had first given permission.

Mr Shovelton uses the tags – which can relay and collate information about sheep weight, wool quality and lambing ability on a farm back to a computer – along with an electronic reader and automatic drafting gate to select the best sheep to keep and mate.

“It’s not that expensive or that difficult to do; it’s labour saving, and the productivity benefits are really there,” he said from his Creighton Creek farm in northeast Victoria.

Local farmers have long struggled with the additional costs of mandatorily fitting of all 70 million sheep and 28 million cattle in Australia with the electronic identification tags, estimated at $50m a year for cattle producers now, and between $25m and $45m for sheep.

The ABA’s Mr Bellinger said sheep and woolgrowers should be doubly wary after the revelation that their private financial information about stock sold from their farms could be passed on, possibly to Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office.

He believes the banks want to know every time a farmer who holds a debt or overdraft with an institution sells stock so they can claim first creditor rights to the income ahead of other rural suppliers, such as stock agents like Elders, with whom the farmer might have an account in the red after purchasing stock feed, chemicals and fertiliser.

“This is an outrageous breach of trust by the MLA,” Mr Bellinger said, who likened the plans to “Big Brother” electronic surveillance.

“MLA’s deployment of this spying system – which for all we know could already be happening – for their own profit is little more than commercial treachery; its secrecy and deceitfulness in this matter is shameful.”


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