USDA’s EID proposal has cattle producers on both sides of the fence… |

USDA’s EID proposal has cattle producers on both sides of the fence…

Cost, retention and reliability are three of the big components driving both discussion and division on the USDA’s proposal to implement EID tags across the beef industry. On January 19, 2023 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed to amend animal disease traceability regulations on cattle and bison identification to require electronic identification for interstate movement. This proposal focuses solely on the breeding sector of the industry and is open for public discussion and comments until March 22, 2023.

The USDA stated that official RFID (EID) tags must be readable at arm’s length (30 inches) as well as with a tag reader. At the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association health and well-being policy meeting it was noted that because transport may involve movement between multiple locations and hands, tracing that data can create delays in disease containment. For this reason, the responsible person or entity must submit all reports and notices to APHIS within 48 hours of receipt. The meeting concluded with a claim that the EID system was not an insurance policy you can claim money on but an assurance that you can identify a disease outbreak.

“This tagging system allows us to trace cattle at the speed of commerce,” said Callahan Grund, executive director of CattleTrace and Kansas seedstock/cow-calf producer. Grund stated that voluntary, contact tracing systems for disease traceability such as U.S. CattleTrace would be a tool that animal health officials could utilize in the case of a disease outbreak to enable a quick response.

“Disease traceability is important to the cattle industry for business continuity in the face of a potential outbreak,” said Grund “If a large-scale disease were to occur, the  current response tools  state animal health officials can utilize today, would severely impact day to day operations at the producer level.” A voluntary disease traceability system, such as U.S. CattleTrace, will allow animal health officials to quickly and accurately conduct a contact trace to help isolate and respond to a potential disease outbreak, he said. Grund pointed out that there are always a lot of questions regarding data security, which is why systems such as the producer-led organization like U.S. CattleTrace exists to ensure information is protected. Grund coordinates with each producer to ensure their system fits within current workflows of producer’s individual operations. “We’re all producers ourselves, so we built our system with that perspective,” said Grund, “We want all producers to get the most out of our traceability system.” The system utilizes four data points: EID tag number, date, time, and location of cattle co-mingling. EID tags increase the speed in which tracing can occur in the fast-paced  overall industry. 

Kenny Fox South Dakota ranching native, and Animal ID committee chair for both the South Dakota Stockgrowers and R-CALF USA, is working to educate fellow beef producers on the tagging system and actively encourages them to send comments to USDA and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. His leadership teams at both associations are fighting the proposal on the grounds of system reliability, cost and tag retention. He believes EID tagging should remain voluntary.

As chairman, Fox has visited with ranchers who’ve implemented the tagging system and the problem of herd tag retention continually came up. “I understand the demand for greater traceability,” said Fox, “But how are we increasing traceability if we can’t keep tags in our cattle’s ear?”  said Fox. He’s spoken to producers that have seen tag losses of 15 percent or more annually, which concerns him. “We need a foolproof retention rate of 99 percent and our 19 cent metal tags have proven it for years,” said Fox.

Fox said there is not an incentive out there that would encourage him to want to register his ranch premises with the federal government, and he believes that if the government mandates an identification program, current incentive programs will lose their value.

If an EID tag is lost in transport the animal is harder to trace but not impossible. Per USDA guidelines all tag manufacturers are approved through both the USDA and APHIS requiring them to verify each tag functions and report use and loss to both entities.

Cost is a concern that most producers have trouble overlooking with implementing the tagging system. Animals who have already been tagged with previously approved USDA APHIS metal tags wouldn’t have to be retagged and only breeding animals being transported out of state are required to have these tags. Private industry groups have created value-added programs that create incentive, efficiency and increase marketability for their operations with differentiation, this is why many cattle feeders have already adopted this technology successfully. Another point raised by a Montana cattle producer at the NCBA policy meeting was that we’ve already paid for the EID tags one way or another in the 17 years it took for the U.S. beef industry to regain market share after BSE. Advancement in the traceability system could safeguard us against this from happening with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).

Fox made the point that FMD has an incubation period of 14 days and we can transport cattle from border to border in 48 hours. As far as FMD, Fox said that argument is a “scare tactic” because he doesn’t believe an electronic tagging system is capable of controlling that disease. “This whole thing is just a way for the government to get their ‘foot in the door’ and then advance this program further,” he said. He has concerns the proposal could violate the 4th amendment.

Last year South Dakota legislature passed the HB 1096 law, a livestock identification bill that allowed producers freedom to choose identification forms for their operation. Fox said that his state has maintained Tuberculosis and Brucellosis free status the last 80 years by requiring silver metal clip NUES and Bangs tags for cattle crossing state lines or changing ownership. Cattle are also inspected by brand inspectors in the brand inspection area, and are recorded by auction barns if they are sold in that format. “We have a pretty good cattle tracing system in this country,” said Fox, “We utilize multiple programs so if one fails another picks up the slack. Simply, If it’s not broken don’t fix it.” The U.S. hasn’t had a confirmed case of FMD since 1929, an accomplishment that can be attributed to multiple identification systems utilized by producers, brand inspectors, sale barns and import restrictions placed on beef from infected regions. Were this to change, however, the U.S. doesn’t have a nationwide traceability system in place for breeding animals.

USDA’s proposal for mandating EID tagging systems may have valid arguments on both sides of the fence, but the common ground we find is that traceability is essential to the future of our beloved beef industry.