Electronic ID to replace metal tags
The USDA is beginning the process to move from using metal identification tags to electronic tags for beef and dairy cattle along with bison. As of right now, this change in ID tags will only apply to cattle previously required to have the traditional metal tags.
By January 1, 2023, electronic tags that use radio frequency identification (RFID) will be required and all animals who have metal tags will need to be retagged with the approved electronic IDs, according to a USDA fact sheet.
These electronic tags are not implants and will still be able to be read visually or with an electronic reader.
In April of 2019, the USDA published a fact sheet outlining the timeline of electronic ID implementation:
As of December 31, 2019, the “USDA will discontinue providing free metal tags;” however, the metal tags will still “be available for purchase on a State-by-State basis” through December 31, 2020.
On January 1, 2021, “Veterinarians and/or producers can no longer apply metal ear tags for official identification and must start using only Official RFID tags.”
By January 1, 2023, “RFID ear tags will be required for beef and dairy cattle and bison moving interstate that meet…requirements. Animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged with RFID ear tags in order to move interstate.”
The USDA does not need congressional approval to implement electronic tags as the primary form of identification.
According to Aaron Scott, Director of the National Animal Disease Traceability and Veterinary Accreditation Center, “There are no changes to the current regulations, so Congressional approval is not required. Animals covered by the rule (9CFR Part 86) are currently required to have official identification to move interstate…Only tags approved by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) administrator may be used for activities under part 86 such as interstate movement.”
The USDA fact sheet also outlined the types of livestock that currently require, and will continue to require, identification tags. These include: “Beef cattle and bison [who are] sexually intact and 18 months or older; used for rodeo or recreation events (regardless of age); or used for shows or exhibitions. All female dairy cattle and all male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013.”
The fact sheet also stated that “feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter are not subject to RFID requirements”
Chelsea Good, Livestock Marketing Association’s vice president of government and industry affairs, commented on the animal traceability rule that went into effect in 2013 and explained that “while it is important, we need to oppose expansion of mandatory animal ID into feeder cattle.”
As for the new timeline and regulations that the USDA is moving forward with, Good stated that she “appreciates that [RFID tags] are not mandatory for all livestock.”
She went on to say that the LMA has hosted meetings to get feedback about changes in animal ID’s from their membership and at those meetings they experienced “less push back than expected.”
The introduction of mandatory RFID tags would mean that sale barns would need to add electronic readers.
According to Scott, “throughout 2017 and 2018, USDA met with state and industry stakeholders to discuss the way forward…at over 20 face to face public meetings.”
Scott went on to say that “Although there were differences of opinion, some major themes arose from cattlemen and women, as well as veterinarians and state officials across the country.” Some of these themes included that the change to RFID tags should not affect feeder cattle, the cost of transitioning away from metal tags, access to traceability data and producer concern about data confidentiality, and concern about the reliability of APHIS’s data systems.
Another theme discussed was the “economic losses created by the need to restrain cattle to manually read and record the official ID number on small visual-only ear tags,” Scott said.
The new regulations have also caused division among livestock groups. In an April press release from the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, executive director James Halverson expressed concern about division within The Cattle Traceability Working Group (CTWG) which is “a group of interested organizations and companies wanting to give input on animal identification and how that system will work and function in the future.”
At a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, some members of the CTWG formed their own “Producers Council” that is made up of only livestock industry individuals and USDA officials who support electronic ID.
In the press release Halverson stated that “We aren’t against electronic ID, in fact that can be a useful tool that many producers, including several on our board of directors have decided to use, but we are against a top-down approach mandated to producers with little regard to whether that system will even work!”
“We’ve used the existing tools for a long time, and mostly effectively,” South Dakota State Vet Dr. Dustin Oedekoven stated.
Currently the USDA provides the orange metal tags free of charge. These metal tags are attached at the time of bangs vaccination primarily onto breeding age cattle that travel interstate, with some exceptions.
In South Dakota, the metal tag numbers along with brand information is stored in a data base located at the state veterinary office in Pierre. These two modes of identification are then used to track and trace any disease threats that the state may encounter.
Dr. Oedekoven explained that the orange metal tags developed when brucellosis was a serious disease threat, but since 2000 South Dakota has been free of that disease which means that there is less of a reason to continue vaccinating for brucellosis.
According to Halverson, the current metal tag system has “proven to be a fairly adequate and good system.”
He said that in the last few years there have been a few bovine tuberculosis cases, but using just the brand and bangs ID numbers, they were able to track down the infected animal within 48 hours. It should also be noted that all of the TB cases in South Dakota have traced back to cattle imported from Mexico.
Dr. Oedekoven explained that an RFID tag “doesn’t have the capacity to store information…so there is no more information on an RFID than we have on a metal tag.”
Applying RFID tags wouldn’t have to be something that a veterinarian must administer, producers could apply for a premise identification number (PIN), purchase their own RFID tags, and apply them without going through a vet.
“Producers are used to metal tags, not that they couldn’t transition, but the timeline is fairly aggressive,” Dr. Oedekoven said.