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.

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. The agency will use the rulemaking process to proceed with their proposal, and therefore the original notice issued will not be finalized. All other approved forms of identification may be used until further notice.


In the spring of 2019, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) quietly announced they would be requiring RFID tags over the traditional metal bangs tags. Producers would have four years to switch to RFID tags, and by January 2023, the tags would be mandatory for moving cattle and bison interstate movement.

USDA announced its decision in the form of a factsheet on its website, not through the standard rulemaking process. The agency removed the factsheet from its website shortly after then-President Donald Trump issued two executive orders in October 2019 to stop federal agencies from imposing rules without following the rulemaking process.

APHIS released a statement on animal disease traceability later that month, 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.”

However, the agency noted it still believed RFID tags were the best option for cattle and bison producers.

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) sued the agency in 2019 upon learning of the factsheet. The group called the regulation an abuse of discretion and a violation of both the Federal Advisory Committee Act and Regulatory Flexibility Act by not involving interested parties or considering effects on small entities.

Last summer, APHIS announced it was seeking public comment on a proposal to require RFID tags for interstate travel by 2023. The comment period closed in October, and on March 23 after reviewing the 944 public comments, APHIS declared they would not mandate the proposal, but would instead use the rulemaking process for future actions related to the proposal.

“APHIS continues to believe that RFID tags will provide the cattle industry with the best protection against the rapid spread of animal diseases and will therefore continue to encourage the use of RFID tags while rulemaking is pending,” the agency said in its announcement.

In response, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said, “Today’s announcement is good news for U.S. cattle producers as it means the impending threat of a costly RFID mandate is now removed, but we must not stop defending the rights of producers because it’s clear the agency fully intends to continue efforts to force this costly mandate upon America’s independent cattle producers."

R-CALF was one of many industry groups who submitted comments last year, as did the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). R-CALF urged the agency to revoke the notice.

In NCBA’s comments, then-President Marty Smith said, “NCBA supports the USDA proposal to transition to RFID ear tags as the official identification for currently covered cattle and bison moving interstate.”

However, Smith said while NCBA supports developing a national animal disease traceability system, the organization had concerns with USDA’s proposed transition to the system. Such concerns included increased costs and infrastructure changes, efficient flow of cattle through the supply chain, and data confidentiality.

“NCBA looks forward to working with USDA, APHIS to implement the proposal for RFID technology for official identification of currently covered cattle and bison as well as working together to address the issues that we have raised in our comments,” the comments concluded.

As APHIS considers a rulemaking process related to animal disease traceability and use of RFID tags, the agency said it will continue to share new information and there will be opportunity for public comment during the rulemaking process. — Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor

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