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Roger defends plan to tag cattle

Thursday, May 01, 2014    

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AGRICULTURE Minister Roger Clarke yesterday defended the Jamaica National Animal Identification and Traceability System (NAITS) programme, in the face of negative criticism since its announcement in Parliament last week.

The minister, in a letter to the Jamaica Observer yesterday, said the move was not only to protect against praedial larceny but to ensure food safety and guard against the spread of deadly animal diseases.

"Animal identification and traceability systems are internationally accepted tools for addressing animal health and food safety issues," Clarke said in his letter.

"These tools can significantly improve the effectiveness of activities such as the management of disease outbreaks and food safety incidents, vaccination programmes, herd/flock husbandry, zoning/compartmentalisation, surveillance, early response and notification systems, animal movement controls, inspection, certification, fair practices in trade and the utilisation of veterinary drugs, feed and pesticides at farm level," the minister said.

The programme, he added, would "ultimately help to promote consumer confidence in the national livestock industry and enhance export market access for live animals and animal products".

Clarke, in the announcement in the House, said that under the new programme every head of cattle will be tagged and issued a passport. The passport will contain critical information about the animal and will be mandatory for movement of all animals. "Concomitant with this is the development of a DNA database of all tagged animals," Clarke said.

Failure to comply with the new programme, Clarke said, will be punishable under the law.

In his letter yesterday, Clarke said it was understandable that reactions to the announcement have reflected diverse viewpoints, ranging "from very positive feedback", to cautious support, to scepticism, "through to negative comments" and noted that he wanted to take the opportunity to shed further light on the NAITS.

The identification system, he said, was also part of an attempt to modernise the agricultural systems and make them internationally competitive.

"Jamaica does not have an option and must grasp the opportunity to act with alacrity in the introduction of this system if it is to become a part of the global marketplace. We cannot be whimsical about it," Clarke said.

Regarding the issue of fighting praedial larceny, the minister said that other measures will be put in place with the NAITS to help combat the scourge, and "fool-proofing the entire animal management system".

These include:

* A comprehensive slew of amendments to the Agricultural Produce Act and the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act, to directly place penalties for Praedial Larceny under this principal legislation, to simplify the procedures for licensing all actors along the food chain as well as to impose stiffer fines;

* A dedicated allocation in the ministry's budget to set up a praedial larceny unit;

* A dedicated unit within the Jamaica Constabulary Force to provide the concentrated focus required to deal with this matter;

* An initiative to partner with a private entity to establish a first-class, multi-species abattoir in western Jamaica, which will bolster the coordinated approach to the slaughtering and butchering of animals.

"A key responsibility of the praedial larceny coordinator in the ministry will be to work closely with the proposed operational unit in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, as well as our Veterinary Services Division, the Ministry of Health and the Trade Board, to coordinate and accelerate compliance efforts, with special emphasis on end users," Clarke said in his letter to the Observer.

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