Producers Traceability Council looks for a path for E-ID
In late April, following a meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, USDA released a Factsheet that included the bombshell: the metal bangs tag and other official metal livestock identification tags are to be phased out and replaced by electronic identification. The timeline is aggressive. By 2021, no new metal tags will be allowed. By 2023, even older breeding animals with metal tags in place must bear a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag.
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association Executive Director James Halverson, who took part in the Cattle Traceability Working Group meeting held during the event, revealed in a follow up news release that a new “hand-picked” group, consisting only of those supporting an electronic identification mandate had been formed.
Indeed, the Producers Traceability Council, comprised of a few individuals and commercial businesses, announced in May that it was focused “specifically on ways to increase the number of cattle identified with electronic identification devices, increase the number of sightings of identified cattle, identify methods of data storage, and suggest cost sharing scenarios, while taking into consideration and minimizing negative effects on producers.”
Joe Leathers, manager of the 6666 Ranch in Texas, and Chuck Adami with Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Assn. are the organization’s co-chairs.
Leathers says members of the group felt like there wasn’t enough “getting accomplished” with the approximately 40-member Cattle Traceabilty Working Group. “There wasn’t enough producer representation. The group was too large,” he said.
“We felt like we were going in circles and spinning our wheels, and it got to the point where some were wanting to drop out,” so the new Producers Traceability Council was born, at the request of the NIAA.
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spokesperson Joelle R. Hayden said the Producer Traceabilty Council is an industry led group, and not part of USDA, although there is a USDA serves as a liason according to the group’s latest news release. “They do not have regulatory authority. They do not represent all of the cattle industry, but speak for the industry members that are part of their group,” said Hayden.
Leathers echoed these thoughts. “Just because the Producer Council comes up with points they think will work, that isn’t necessarily where the industry will end up.”
The group is independent and is working toward formulating a recommendation to the industry as a whole, said Leathers.
The group’s members – Chuck Adami, Equity Cooperative Livestock, Mike Bumgarner, United Producers, Ken Griner, Usher Land & Timber, Inc., Joe Leathers, 6666 Ranch, Jim Lovell, Green Plains Cattle Company LLC, Mr. Bob Scherer, Tyson. Dr. Justin Smith, Kansas State Veterinarian, Keith York, Wisconsin Livestock ID Consortium, Jarold Callahan, Express Ranches, Cody James, International Livestock Identification Assoc.Dr. Sarah Tomlinson (DVM), Government Liaison, USDA, APHIS, VS, a non-voting member of the Council – pay their own travel expenses and are not beholden to any groups such as USDA, NIAA or NCBA, he said.
“My goal is to get something realistic done,” he said. The group is focused on the “least intrusive as possible” pathway forward for the mandatory electronic identification USDA has announced it will enforce for breeding cattle that cross state lines. “We have to meet the needs of cow-calf, stocker, salebarns, feedlots and packers,” he said.
“Some people don’t feel we need any kind of change and some think we don’t need foreign trade, and that is where our disease comes from,” said Leathers.
But he said he’s been told by packers that if BSE enters the U.S., the cattle market will drop about $300 per head. Leathers thinks the new technology will make disease traceback faster.
He compares electronic identification for livestock to a more popular technology. “Handwritten letters and snail mail, that is the metal bangs tag. If you move up to cell phones – flip phones would be like the low frequency tags, and the smart phones would be like the high frequency tags,” he said. “Why would we want to start a new system of traceability with older technology?”
But some think mandatory electronic tags are an unnecessary expense at best and an infringement of private property rights and at worst, an open door for anti-agriculturalists to gain traction.
Leathers said that in 2011, his ranch was forced to move cattle out of state because of a drought. “We moved over 4,000 cows over a few months period. It took time with days getting long and hot, stress on cattle.” He said that with the introduction of low frequency electronic tags, the process was simplified and overhead was reduced.”
Belvidere, South Dakota rancher Kenny Fox serves as the Animal ID committee chairman for both the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and R-CALF USA.
Fox said that his organizations have no problem with private individuals or businesses utilizing any kind of tagging system they choose, but they don’t support a government-mandated electronic id program.
Fox believes USDA is outside of its authority to even require the use of electronic identification.
In fact, numerous attorneys also question whether USDA can move forward with the significant industry requirement without a rule change and public comment period, and R-CALF USA is considering a lawsuit against USDA to stop the implementation of the mandatory electronic identification program.
USDA is “getting the cart before the horse” in implementing a program without the infrastructure to record, interpret or manage the data, said Fox.
Hayden said that the data in most cases will be managed by the states, in the same way health records and bangs tag numbers are currently kept.
Hayden said USDA heard comments in their 2018 listening sessions that included “considerable support” from industry and state officials to move to electronic identification. “They also asked for USDA to share the cost for transitioning to EID. In September 2018, Under Secretary Ibach presented four overarching goals to advance traceability. The goals incorporated input from both industry and state Officials to protect the cattle industry by rapidly tracing cattle infected and exposed to high impact diseases like TB, Brucellosis, and in worst case, foot and mouth disease. Successfully implementing them requires substantially increased use of EID,” said Hayden. She did not mention whether producers or feeders voiced support for the concept.
Fox said he and other members of R-CALF and SDSGA attended the listening sessions, and that the comments included significant opposition to mandatory electronic identification from producers.
“They act like they are so afraid that something will happen that they can’t sell their tags. They are in a big rush to get this in there and they are going to worry about how to make it work after they get the tag in the cow,” said Fox.
Fox said disease prevention is the better strategy. “I don’t like the fact that they want to manage a disease like foot and mouth disease after it gets here. “It’s all about money and not about what works.”
See sidebar for USDA’s published timeline for implementation of the electronic identification program.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News