RFID ear tag generic traceability

Cattle ear tags like this that offer visual and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can be used in animal identification and traceability programs.

Many in the beef industry were not thrilled to hear of USDA’s subtle announcement that radio frequency identification (RFID) tags would soon become mandated over the traditional metal bangs tags.

Most unhappy of all was Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) who sued the USDA, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and USDA agency Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) over the decision.

R-CALF called the regulation “arbitrary” and an “abuse of discretion.” The organization also said the guideline would be a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act by not involving other interested parties, and a violation of the Regulatory Flexibility Act by failing to consider effects on small entities.

Just two days after the lawsuit was filed, R-CALF noted the APHIS factsheet detailing the mandate had been removed from the agency website. Shortly before the factsheet was removed, President Donald Trump issued two Executive Orders on Oct. 8 to stop federal agencies from imposing legally binding obligations on U.S. citizens without following the due process of rulemaking.  

The orders gave federal agencies 120 days to compile a record of all publicly available guidance documents that were intended to be kept and defended, regardless of whether they were created by a lawful rulemaking process.

“We hope that USDA’s removal of the “Factsheet” from its website demonstrates that the agency acknowledges the strength of our lawsuit challenging its illegal effort at mandating RFID for livestock producers who seek to sell their livestock across state lines,” said Harriet Hageman of the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

APHIS released a statement on animal disease traceability on Oct. 25. stating, “Last April, APHIS posted a factsheet to provide producers with information about the agency’s guidelines and goals related to Animal Disease Traceability [ADT]. Since the factsheet was posted, APHIS has listened to the livestock industry’s feedback.”

As a result, the agency decided to revisit the guidelines and remove the factsheet from their website, as it is “no longer representation of current agency policy.”

The statement also said recent executive orders have highlighted the need for transparency and communication before placing new requirements on American farmers and ranchers, and APHIS will not implement the requirement regarding types of identification devices that must be applied to cattle.

The agency does note, “We continue to believe that RFID devices will provide the cattle industry with the best protection against the rapid spread of animal diseases, as well as meet the growing expectations of foreign and domestic buyers.”

As APHIS reconsiders whether or when new requirements will be put in place, the agency will encourage RFID tags through financial incentives consistent with suggestions from the industry.

“It is important to note that despite any future actions USDA-APHIS may take regarding official identification devices, the underlying ADT regulations apply only to sexually-intact beef animals over 18 months of age moving in interstate commerce, cattle used for exhibition, rodeo and recreational events, and all dairy cattle.”

The agency emphasizes that those regulation permit brands and tattoos are acceptable identification if the shipping and receiving states agree.

The statement concludes that USDA’s goals to enhance ADT have not changed, and the collective aim is to encourage electronic identification for animals moving interstate under the current ADT regulation; enhance electronic sharing of basic animal disease traceability data; enhance the ability to track animals from birth to slaughter; and increase the use of electronic animal health certificates. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

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