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Groups comment on APHIS proposal to require electronic tags

USDA | courtesy image
USDA | courtesy image

The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published a proposed rule, Jan. 18, 2023, on the use of electronic identification eartags as official identification in cattle and bison.

The rule would require that tags be both visually and electronically readable in order to be recognized for use as official eartags for interstate movement of cattle and bison covered under the regulations.

APHIS is accepting public comment through March 22.



The US Cattlemen’s Association said the biggest change if the rule were enforced would be that official USDA tags will now be defined as those that are both visually and electronically readable.

USCA believes about 11 percent of the US cattle herd would be affected. This would include cattle crossing state lines that meet any of the following conditions:



  • sexually intact and 18 months of age or older; 
  • all female dairy cattle of any age and male dairy animals born after March 11, 2013;
  • cattle and bison of any age used for rodeo or recreational events; and
  • cattle or bison of any age used for shows or exhibitions.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President-Elect Todd Wilkinson, a South Dakota cattle producer and chairman of the NCBA traceability working group, said NCBA has remained engaged with USDA in the conversation about animal disease traceability. Any program ought to allow for maximum flexibility and privacy, while at the same time minimizing costs and business disruptions, he said.

NCBA is reviewing the proposed rule to determine whether it meets their policy, he said. NCBA believes that an animal disease traceability program should:

  • Be compatible with private sector animal ID and verification programs backed by the USDA.
  • Be compatible with the general traceability principles of the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH).
  • Recognize existing USDA programs for beef exports. 
  • Be built using infrastructure that supports other potential uses of ID. 
  • Utilize low-cost electronic official tagging devices paid for by federal and/or state funds, when possible.
  • Require that cattle ID information for disease traceability be kept confidential and strongly protected from disclosure.
  • Protect ownership information from disclosure to future owners. 
  • Protect producers from liability for acts of others, after the cattle have left the producer’s control.
  • Operate at the speed of commerce. 
  • Not replace or impede existing state brand inspection activities. 
  • Work within a framework to accommodate all classes of cattle. 

“Foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks across the globe continue to result in disruptions to commerce and depopulated livestock, the need for bold action is immediate and evident. However, NCBA is committed to working with USDA to ensure workable solutions are identified and ultimately implemented. Cattle producers can be confident that any finished product will protect our national livestock herd. We will ensure it provides maximum producer privacy and flexibility with minimal costs, exactly what our stakeholders have told us they expect from USDA,” said Wilkinson.

USCA has been engaged in this conversation and will continue to do so, said the organization’s news release.

Below are points USCA believes ought to be included in any national animal idenfication program:

  • There should be no private control of data, or access to the data, without the prior approval of the owner at the time of application.
  • 840 series EID tags should be only used as official EID on US born and raised cattle (900 series tags are not unique in their official identification)
  • All official USDA tag information should be held in state animal health data bases and shared with federal animal health officials as needed.
  • The use of USDA metal NEUS tags and electronic tags should continue.
  • The industry requires more time to adapt and transfer to an all-electronic system; time will determine whether multiple systems can be used.
  • Official ID should only be required on breeding cattle and only as they move into interstate commerce, or as determined by each state’s importation requirements
  • As the industry looks to adopt EIDs, financial assistance from USDA will be required to supply reader equipment, both low frequency (LF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF).
  • As any future transition is made to EIDs, the process will eventually need to move to UHF in order to improve read range and the ability to read animals and groups at speed of commerce.
  • Producers should never be responsible for more than the cost of the tags.
  • Premises identification numbers (PINs) should not be required to acquire and apply EID tags. The same information can be gathered on health certificates and test charts and other animal health documents
USDA | courtesy image
USDA | courtesy image

Bill Bullard, speaking for R-CALF USA, said the poposed rule would require adult cattle shipped interstate to bear a radio frequency identification eartag. “Though APHIS has changed its terminology from radio frequency identification (RFID) eartags to electronic identification (EID) eartags, it acknowledges that ‘the only official electronically readable identification tags are RFID tags,’” he said.

“The proposed rule is a proposal to mandate the use of RFID eartags when adult cattle are shipped across state lines, period,” said Bullard.

According to Bullard, APHIS cites the 2003 restrictions placed on U.S. beef exports following the discovery of an imported Canadian cow in the U.S. with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease. The agency states that the resulting restrictions on U.S. beef exports caused upwards of $7.1 billion (adjusted for inflation) in losses to the “U.S. beef industry.”

Bullard explained that while beef packers may have sustained losses immediately following the 2003 trade restrictions, financial returns to cow/calf producers increased to historically high levels for two years in a row, due principally to the increased prices the beef packers paid for domestic cattle for several years after the restrictions were put in place. 

“It’s clear the proposed RFID mandate is intended to serve the trade interests of the multinational beef packers by protecting them from having to pay higher prices for cattle as occurred following the BSE-related trade restrictions imposed in 2003.

“A government mandated RFID scheme is wrongheaded. If the multinational packers believe RFID eartags will help them avoid losses associated with trade restrictions, then those packers should offer economic incentives to the cattle industry to encourage more voluntary RFID participation. 

“APHIS’ proposal is a gift to the multinational packers, granting them economic benefits that they won’t have to pay for because the proposed rule would require cattle producers to bear the cost. In addition, it’s a windfall for multinational eartag manufacturers who, by virtue of the government mandate, are guaranteed millions of dollars in eartag sales,” Bullard added.  

Bullard said USDA previously estimated about 30 million head of cattle would be affected by the rule, but now it claims about 11 million will be affected. The cost is estimated at upwards of $3.65 per eartag.

“The agency does not explain why it has reduced its estimate of cattle moving interstate by nearly a third, nor does it explain how independent cattle producers who have long suffered from depressed cattle prices can withstand upwards of a $3.65 per head increase in production costs with no expectation of recovering that cost in the marketplace,” said Bullard.

–compiled with news releases from NCBA, USCA and R-CALF USA