The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will soon be requiring all metal bangs ear tags be replaced with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

In a four-year implementation process, USDA will stop providing free metal tags as part of the brucellosis eradication program and require bison and cattle producers to purchase RFID tags for animals moving interstate.

In the past, metal ear tags signifying brucellosis-free status have been provided at no cost from USDA. The tags will continue to be provided until Dec. 31, 2019. After January 2021, metal tags may no longer be produced and only official RFID ear tags may be applied to beef and dairy cattle and bison. By January 2023, RFID tags will be mandatory for cattle and bison moving across state lines.

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.

Animals that will require official RFID tags for beef cattle and bison include: those sexually intact and 18 months or older; those used for rodeo or recreational events; or those used for show or exhibitions. All female dairy cattle, and all male cattle born after March 11, 2013, will require RFID tags to move across state lines.

USDA is initiating this move away from metal tags in an attempt to “greatly enhance animal health officials’ ability to locate specific animals during an outbreak.” Electronic identification could speed up the testing process by weeks or months compared to paper records.

Although the tags will not be provided for free any longer, USDA said it will be working with state animal health officials to share the cost, discounting the price producers will pay. The partners will also provide funding for electronic readers for markets and veterinarians.

In order to purchase the official USDA RFID tags, a premises identification number (PIN) will be required. USDA has an online interactive map at that directs producers to state-specific instructions for obtaining a PIN.

Brands and tattoos may still be accepted as official identification if both the shipping and receiving animal health authorities agree to accept the markings in place of RFID, according to USDA. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

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