The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is seeking public comment on a proposal for APHIS to approve only radio frequency identification (RFID) as the official ear tag for use in interstate movement of cattle that are required to be identified by the traceability regulations.
An official ear tag is defined as an identification tag approved by APHIS that bears an official identification number for individual animals. Regulations allow APHIS to approve tags that can be used as official identification, and both metal and RFID tags are current options.
A transition to RFID tags would support APHIS’s ongoing efforts to increase animal disease traceability by more accurately and rapidly allowing animal health officials to know where affected and at-risk animals are located. While this would not prevent disease outbreaks, it would allow animal health officials to contain outbreaks more quickly and early before they can do substantial damage to the U.S. cattle industry.
APHIS is also seeking comment on a proposed timeline for implementation, which the agency would use if this transition occurs. The timeline would make RFID tags the only option for use in cattle and bison requiring official identification starting Jan. 1, 2023. APHIS would “grandfather in” animals that already have metal tags in place on that date; those metal tags would serve as the official identification for the remainder of the animals' life span.
This transition timeline would not alter the existing regulations. The cattle and bison that must be identified will not change, nor will the option for animal health officials in shipping and receiving states to agree to accept alternate forms of identification, including brands and tattoos, in lieu of official identification.
Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 5, 2020, at www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-14463. After reviewing all comments, APHIS will publish a follow-up notice in the Federal Register. This notice will respond to any such comments, announce the agency's decision on whether to approve only RFID tags as the official identification devices for cattle and, if so, provide the timeline for such a transition.
In an April 2019 RFID mandate, APHIS required all cattle producers to use 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.
R-CALF USA and the ranchers filed a lawsuit in October 2019 alleging that the agencies' RFID mandate was unlawful. In response, the agencies 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.