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National Livestock Identification System

Animal Health Australia (AHA) participates in the advisory and standards committees for the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) programs to ensure national consistency in defining, developing, promoting and deploying the various species-based approaches.

How NLIS works

NLIS is Australia’s system for the permanent identification and lifetime traceability of livestock. It brings together three very simple concepts:

  • identification of a physical location for the animal—known as the ‘property identification code’ (PIC)
  • an animal identifier—a visual or electronic tag or brand, known as a ‘device’
  • a method of correlation and storage—a web-based database.

The NLIS is designed to record device and PIC statuses and to track devices and corresponding livestock movements for disease control, biosecurity, food safety, market access and other industry related purposes.

Livestock can be identified either individually or by mob, depending on what is agreed by each industry sector.

Why NLIS is important

Livestock traceability is very important for disease control, product integrity and market access.

Disease response

Rapid tracing of animals is critical in any emergency disease response. The faster animals are traced, the greater the chances of controlling a disease outbreak and minimising the costly effects on industry and its supporting sectors.

Having an effective tracing system in place also minimises the number of properties that may be affected due to possible stock movements.

Chemical contamination

Chemical contamination is a more frequent problem than disease outbreaks in the livestock industry. Australia’s export markets do not accept livestock products that exceed specified thresholds of chemical residues.

Tracing cohort animals minimises the trade effects of such violations and ensures these violations are not repeated.

Market access

Australia’s export markets for livestock and livestock products are particularly sensitive to disease control measures and the effects of livestock disease outbreaks and chemical contamination incidents.

The livestock production and related industries benefit greatly from Australia’s favourable animal health status compared to that experienced by some other countries. The good international reputation of Australian exports is driven both by the absence of diseases and contaminants in Australian export animals and animal products and the disease control measures in place to prevent and contain any outbreak. Loss of market access is an inevitable effect of poor disease and chemical contamination control.

A number of Australia’s export markets require–or are moving towards requiring–mandatory identification and traceability of Australian products from property of birth through to the consumer. Some individual importers of Australian livestock products are now demanding lifetime traceability, which is not possible to deliver without NLIS.


Good disease and chemical control underpins the international perception of Australian livestock products, which influences less tangible export market factors, such as marketability and price.

An effective and recognised traceability system provides:

  • an insurance policy in the event of a disease outbreak
  • a competitive advantage over other producing nations with less comprehensive systems
  • improved quality assurance
  • protection for the good reputation of the Australian livestock industries.

A loss of reputation and confidence caused by a livestock disease outbreak or chemical contamination incident—or by a lack of an effective tracing system—would incur large and long-lasting costs for Australia’s export markets.

What other countries are doing

Livestock disease and welfare incidents around the world have caused Australia’s major customers and competitors to look more closely at improved traceability systems.

  • Brazil has an individual animal identification scheme for exports to the European Union (EU).
  • Canada implemented mandatory individual identification and adopted permanent radio frequency identification tags from 1 January 2005.
  • The EU has used an individual animal radio frequency identification device (RFID) and passport system since 2000.
  • Japan has implemented individual identification through the supply chain.
  • New Zealand has an electronic identification system for its deer and cattle industries.
  • The United States (US) is considering a full individual animal identification proposal; the latest draft aims to achieve 48-hour traceback.
  • Uruguay commenced an individual traceability system for exports to the EU in 2001. It is trialling an ‘improved’ system that involves double tagging of cattle (visual and electronic tags) and recording movements on a central database.

International standards

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has published a set guidelines for the design and implementation of traceability and identification systems—see Chapters 4.1 and 4.2 of the Terrestrial Animal Health Code. All OIE members have agreed to these guidelines, which form a minimum set of standards for members to comply with and operate by.

How it started

The NLIS (Cattle) was developed based on the principles agreed by the Agricultural and Resource Ministers Council of Australia and New Zealand in 1997 following the ‘cotton trash’ incident in 1995-96 where cattle being drought-fed with cotton trash were contaminated with the chemical ‘Helix’.  The first tags were issued in Victoria in February 1999.

The EU market access crisis occurred in June 1999 following unsuccessful attempts to convince the European Commission that ‘tail tagging’ delivered ‘whole of life’ identification.  Industry stakeholders reliant on EU market access then took an interest in the NLIS (Cattle) and it was adopted to address ‘whole of life’ traceability.

The key driver for its adoption outside of Victoria across the whole industry (domestic and export) was the appreciation of the consequences of poor traceability following the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK in 2001 and the implications of the lack of traceability following BSE detections in Canada, Japan and the US in the 2001-2004 period.  Mandatory implementation commenced in Victoria in 2002.  Primary Industries Ministerial Council decided in 2004 to adopt the NLIS (Cattle) on a mandatory basis throughout Australia.

How AHA is involved

AHA helps to define, develop, promote and deploy Australia’s NLIS programs to ensure national consistency.

AHA participates on the NLIS advisory and standards committees and keeps its members well informed.

As part of our role, we:

  • actively encourage other industry members to adopt national identification and traceability schemes for their livestock
  • contribute to the definition, development and deployment of these schemes
  • ensure mandatory livestock identification and traceability is a priority for the animal health system
  • communicate the importance of effective livestock identification and tracing systems to all stakeholders.

AHA is strongly committed to the implementation of mandatory animal identification and traceability schemes in the Australian livestock industries. We believe that a robust, mandatory animal identification and traceability system is essential to the achievement of the national animal health objectives.

Appropriate animal identification and traceability schemes offer benefits to animal health management at enterprise, industry, state and national levels.

To serve the national interest and deliver the available benefits, animal identification and traceability schemes must:

  • be nationally uniform for each livestock species
  • use a risk-based approach to deliver traceability and identification objectives
  • ensure timely delivery of required animal movement information
  • have their performance assessed against the National Livestock Traceability Performance Standards.

Governance of NLIS

Policy making

NLIS is a program of SAFEMEAT—the industry–government partnership responsible for meat safety. Industry and government work together to develop policy and make decisions that are in the best interest of all parties.


State and territory governments have a role in controlling stock disease and residues under the various state or territory Stock Disease Acts and related legislation. Any regulatory requirements associated with the NLIS would be incorporated into these Acts and their implementation is the responsibility of the state and territory authorities.

Service delivery

Meat & Livestock Australia Limited (MLA) established the Integrity Systems Company (ISC) as a wholly owned subsidiary company to administer the NLIS database. ISC plays a crucial role in providing information tools, training and technical support designed to assist users better understand and get the most out of the NLIS for cattle, sheep and goats.

Australian Pork Limited (APL) has been instructed by industry to administer the pig system. APL drives the design and implementation of tools required for the smooth uptake of NLIS (pigs).

The Australian Alpaca Association is responsible for developing and implementing NLIS (South American Camelids). It has kept other industry groups (Llama Association of Australia, Australasian Alpaca Breeders Association) involved in the development of the new system.

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Page reviewed: 31/10/2018