USDA announces intent to pursue rulemaking on RFID use

Wisconsin State Farmer
The animal disease traceability regulations apply 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.

After reviewing 944 public comments on a July 2020 notice that proposed to approve Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as the official eartag for use in interstate movement of cattle, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has decided to use the rulemaking process for future action related to this proposal.

This means that the original notice will not be finalized, and that all current APHIS-approved methods of identification may be used as official identification until further notice.

Comments filed with USDA ranged from concerns over cost to questioning the USDA's lack of interest in mandating Country of Origin Labeling on beef is the agency was worried about tracking and origin of cattle. Others commended the USDA's efforts to beef up animal traceability in the country.

RELATED: USDA moves toward all-RFID system for officially identifying cattle

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.

Ken Fox, who runs an Angus/Angus-cross cow-calf operation in South Dakota, who serves as R-CALF USA's Animal Identification Committee chair says the plan has several flaws including a 7% error rate in tags as well as poor tag retention rates.

Fox said that while some people filing comments are in favor of it, the majority of the comments represent farmers and ranchers who are opposed to the RFID requirement. One of their concerns is the cost.

“The cost of the tags is the cheapest part of it. Readers are expensive and they would have to be installed in auction barns and all over. Those readers only last four or five years and have to be updated or replaced and we come back to the fact that those RFID tags don’t stand up as well as metal tags,” Fox told the Wisconsin State Farmer.

RELATED: R-CALF member explains group’s opposition to RFID system

An official eartag is defined as an identification tag approved by APHIS that bears an official identification number for individual animals. Under the current regulations, eartags may be used as official identification, and both visual-only metal and plastic tags, as well as RFID tags are current options.

Under its current timeline, the agency wants to require RFID tags for beef cattle, dairy cattle and bison moving interstate by January 1, 2023. (Feeder cattle or those moving directly to slaughter might be exempt from the RFID requirement.)

Animals affected by this requirement would include cattle that are sexually intact and 18 months of age or older; those used for shows and exhibitions; and all female dairy cattle and all male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013. If an animal has only a metal ear tag when that deadline passes, it would need to be retagged in order for it to be moved.

APHIS will continue to share news and information about efforts related to ADT and the use of RFID tags, and there will be an opportunity for public comment during the rulemaking process.