In an April 2019 mandate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) required all cattle producers to use radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags and to register their premises with the government if they transport adult cattle across state lines after Jan. 1, 2023.
On April 6, 2020, Harriet Hageman, senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, filed an amended complaint in the Wyoming federal district court on behalf of R-CALF USA and ranchers Tracy and Donna Hunt and Kenny and Roxy Fox challenging the RFID actions.
In an order dated March 6, 2020, the court authorized R-CALF USA and the ranchers to file an amended complaint to specifically address their allegations that it was a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) when the agencies developed and published their RFID mandate in April 2019.
R-CALF USA and the ranchers filed a lawsuit in October 2019 alleging that the RFID mandate was unlawful. In response, USDA and APHIS withdrew their mandate and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that the agencies had voluntarily cured their violation. The court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.
However, in a motion filed on Feb. 18, 2020, Hageman informed the court that the order to dismiss did not address the lawsuit's other major allegation: that, in addition to violating the law by issuing the RFID mandate in the first place, the agencies also violated the law by having convened one or more committees consisting of ear tag manufacturers, packers and other advocates of mandatory RFID and relied upon those newly created committees to help the agencies develop policies to implement the RFID mandate by Jan. 1, 2023.
The court granted Hageman's request by authorizing her clients to file the amended complaint that focuses specifically on their allegation that USDA and APHIS violated the law by convening and relying upon unlawful committees to assist them in implementing their RFID mandate.
"FACA was designed for just this purpose. It ensures that federal agencies such as the USDA are hearing from all of the stakeholders on a given issue, not just those who stand to make the most money. It is time to peel back the curtain on how the 2019 factsheet and RFID mandate came about. Our livestock producers are entitled to no less," Hageman said.
"We remain deeply concerned that the USDA ran roughshod over independent U.S. cattle producers to assist ear tag manufacturers achieve their financial goals by creating an artificial demand for a single technology -- forcing RFID ear tag use through an unlawful government mandate. Packers that want to vertically integrate the U.S. cattle industry would also benefit by imposing such a costly mandate on independent cattle producers. It is imperative that we get to the bottom of this so we can prevent this from ever happening again," R-CALF USA chief executive officer Bill Bullard said.