Meat Markets Face Threat

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The illegal exchange of ear tags amongst farmers is likely to jeopardise access to markets for Namibia’s livestock and livestock products, the National Coordinator of the Livestock Identification and Traceability System, Dr Alexander Toto, has warned. Reports of these illegal activities have so far been received from five areas, namely, Aminuis, Talismanus, Epukiro, Otjinene and Rietfontein. Toto, who is also a state veterinarian seconded to the Meat Board, told New Era yesterday although the sellers of these tags might be making money, this malpractice could cost the country its markets. Being a prerequisite for the movement of livestock, cattle rustlers and farmers that have not applied for the tags buy them at N$100 instead of the official price of N$6.20. Although it is a serious case that needs to be addressed urgently, Toto sad it was not widespread and hence containable. The Livestock Identification and Traceability System, which requires every animal that is being moved from one place to the other to be ear-tagged, is a component of Farm Assured Namibia Meat which was introduced in 2005 and implemented throughout Namibia last year. Traceability assures people that the product they are getting is safe as countries want to protect their citizens and also safeguard national herds of livestock, without which, Toto says, “we are done as any prospective market demands a measure of traceability”. Cases of this illegal practice have been reported since May 2006. Another malpractice that has been reported involves mainly livestock prospectors and auctioneers who buy cattle and tag them as if they are the ones that raised the animals. This practice, said Toto, was also creating chaos especially on the database as officials have to go back to rectify the mistakes that have been created by the buyers. He said such cases have decreased so far because meetings were held and culprits received warning letters. The process of purchasing ear tags takes six weeks, which may not be the ideal system for communal farmers, most of whom sell their livestock as the need arises. “For urgent and unplanned marketing, the current ordering system does not suit the people with ad hoc selling of livestock,” said the national coordinator, urging farmers to buy and keep a few tags in case of emergencies. Since 2005 to date, 1.3 million ear tags have been purchased. While it is believed that there will come a point especially early in 2008, when the government will require compulsory ear-tagging, the current system only involves animals that are being moved from one place to another. The Meat Board is however exploring possibilities of having ear tags for each area to help those that find the process of registration of ear tags too long. Toto said this would make it easier for farmers that sell animals on an ad-hoc basis to get the tags whenever they need them. “We would like to start with the farmers that are being exploited now,” he said. The board is looking at the business model and how it will work. This model is expected to be presented to the executive management of the board at the end of January. Most of the cases involving the illegal practices have been difficult to follow up because of lack of hard evidence, said Toto. But, he urged people with evidence to report such cases to the nearest state veterinarian and animal health technicians who are present during every cattle auction. Toto warned farmers not to buy, share or borrow ear tags and encouraged farmer’s associations to explore the idea of area-coded ear tags as opposed to brand-coded tags especially for farmers that do not plan their selling. Police in Epukiro in December made a number of arrests of people that attempted to sell cattle with other farmers’ ear tags, which they say is big business.