Livestock agents plead guilty to unrecorded movement of cattle

THREE men were ordered to pay $12,000 to the RSPCA for failing to correctly record cattle movements, after facing the Sale Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

All three avoided conviction and were given 12 month good behaviour bonds.

Steven Boulton, 49, pleaded guilty to seven charges relating to livestock traceability and failing to update records.

Originally, he faced more than 330 charges, most of which were rolled into the seven charges.

One of the charges related to almost 600 cattle being registered to 169 different properties across Australia, instead of being registered to Mr Boulton’s property.

Another two men, Clayton Kelly and Peter Rosenberg, also in court, pleaded guilty of similar charges and moving cattle between properties without National Livestock Identification System devices.

The men will also be required to undertake NLIS training for livestock producers this year.

The outcome follows an investigation of more than 18 months, conducted by Agriculture Victoria.

This involved raids on the men’s properties in Gippsland in 2016, though it was noted they were fully cooperative with Animal Health Officers.

Magistrate Simon Zebrowski said some of the charges clearly showed the men “didn’t know what (they) were doing”.

He repeatedly asked why the department did not pursue its regular policy of educating farmers about the system.

The prosecution tended the charges were very serious, and the men had an understanding of the system due to their occupations as stock agents.

“The accused feel they are being treated differently — I can assure the court they are not,” the prosecution said.

“Here, there was education, there were warnings, letters … the policy of education was complied with.

“The scope of the offending was such that on top of the education, officers decided to take it to prosecutors.”

The men’s defence lawyer argued the system did not have adequate ways to warn and educate farmers they were misusing the system, and some letters were sent to the wrong address.

The Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 and the Livestock Disease Control Regulations 2017 set out the Victorian requirements for the National Livestock Identification System.

It is important that livestock can be identified and tracked from their property of birth to slaughter or export.

For the cattle industry, NLIS accurately records movements of individual animals on a national database.

When used in conjunction with Victoria’s Property Identification Code register, this data enables animals to be rapidly traced during disease, market access and food safety emergencies.

After animals are moved between properties with two different PICs, it is the responsibility of the buyer or receiver of the stock to notify the NLIS database of stock movements within two days of cattle arriving.

Agriculture Victoria livestock traceability manager Ben Fahy said it was against the law for livestock owners and agents to move animals between two different PICs without conducting a database transfer.

“This case serves as a reminder that missing, false or misleading information relating to livestock identification and movements threatens the Victorian industry’s reputation for safe food production,” he said.

“The cattle industry is an essential part of our rural and regional communities and their ongoing prosperity relies on having effective traceability systems to underpin confidence in our products and to maintain access to local and international markets.

“Accurate and up-to-date information about where livestock are kept is essential to protect the state’s $5 billion livestock industry. If livestock owners fail to accurately track their livestock, it can jeopardise the entire industry,” Mr Fahy said.