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Cattle at the Russell Livestock LLC line up with their RFID tags. U.S. CattleTrace currently has individual cow/calf producers, auction market, feedyard and state association members from 12 states. Photo courtesy of U.S. CattleTrace.

When it comes to mandated RFID tags, R-CALF has been steady in its battle against USDA over the past two years.

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) recently filed an opening brief to request the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reverse a lower court’s dismissal of their case against USDA’s mandated radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag rule. The suit represents R-CALF, as well as four private ranchers. 

In 2019, USDA quietly released a document detailing how the department would begin to mandate RFID tags beginning in 2023. The department ended up rescinding the rule after it received much backlash, though not before R-CALF filed suit against the move. 

In 2021, USDA once again announced it would explore mandating the tags but ultimately ceased the effort. USDA said it was still highly interested in mandated tags and that it would begin a formal rulemaking process, allowing stakeholders input on any proposal.

R-CALF’s suit alleged not only did USDA act unlawfully in attempting to mandate tags, but the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) violated the law by using private committees for input on mandating the tags. R-CALF claimed the committees were “comprised largely of pro-mandatory RFID interests, including representatives of multinational beef packers, their allies and RFID ear tag manufacturers.”

The lower court found that APHIS did not violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act and ultimately dismissed R-CALF’s suit. The group decided to appeal to the 10th Circuit Court, claiming the lower court’s ruling was made in error. 

USDA recently announced radio frequency identification (RFID) tags will not be mandated as the only tag option for interstate movement of cattle and bison, after reviewing public comments from a 2020 proposal. 

“Essentially, the cattle producers argue their case was pigeon-holed on a track that prevented them from acquiring the knowledge that APHIS possessed regarding its involvement with the private committees, which inappropriately protected APHIS from meaningful scrutiny,” R-CALF said in a press release.

The group is seeking a court order to prohibit APHIS from using any of the work products produced by the “allegedly unlawful private committees,” in the event USDA proposes a rule for mandatory RFID tags.

“USDA and APHIS should not be allowed to cut backroom deals with ear tag manufacturing companies and the packers in order to further line their pockets at the expense of the independent cattle producer,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO.

“Until Congress steps in to protect the property rights and liberties of United States cattle producers, our lawsuit is the only action holding USDA at bay,” he concluded. — Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor 

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