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Guest Opinion: Oppose South Dakota HB 1096, regarding RFID tags

Sometimes as producers we need to step back and ask ourselves what is important to our industry and what is important to our operation. I think a consistent form of official identification for cattle is important to both. Now that we have all experienced a pandemic, we have learned about the necessity of contact tracing to limit the spread of disease. Being able to quickly and accurately identify and limit contact with the disease carriers is important to reducing the number of cases and controlling the impact of a disease. That is true for both humans and livestock.

With the movement of cattle we have in the modern era, we need to have the ability to quickly and efficiently trace cattle’s movement from the location of detection to the point of origin. Being able to trace livestock back through the sale barns to the ranch of origin is nothing new to producers. We currently can trace back cows through brucellosis tag numbers. In South Dakota, the tag numbers are recorded by your veterinarian, sent to the state Animal Industry Board (AIB) where they identify the ranch of origin. The numbers are also recorded at sale barns when cows are sold and information sent to the state office. This system involves the sale barn and vet crew head catching the cows so they can read the number, writing on a piece of paper to be turned in the sale barn vet office to be sent to the AIB office. It has been done in this manner for many years, obviously it must work. But just because it works doesn’t mean that it is the best way of doing it.

We now have the ability to utilize electronic tags that can be read from a distance with the data being stored and transferred electronically to eliminate human record keeping errors. We wouldn’t be storing any data that isn’t already being stored, just storing it in a more accurate and efficient manner. While this technology is not currently used by all producers, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has considered making electronic tags the only acceptable form of official identification system. Last week HB 1096 was introduced into the South Dakota legislature. Essentially, this bill would limit the authority of the Animal Industry Board to establish the type of identification methods required in South Dakota, and it would not allow the use of any state funds to enforce a mandatory electronic ear tag regulation if USDA requires it in the future. If no state funds are used, this would lead to regulation of our local producers shifting from state Animal Industry Board to the federal government. Is that really the direction that we as beef producers want to go or the message that we want to send to consumers?

I am proud to represent an association that recognizes the need for a uniform official identification system and has formed policy clearly to that effect. Whether they keep calf records in a calf book in their pocket or electronically in their phone; or even keep calf records at all, our members see the need for an efficient and accurate official identification system that provides for trace back of animals that takes hours instead of days. Even our members that still use flip phones understand the need and benefits of using technology to track cattle movements and embrace this change instead of delaying it. Please join SD Cattlemen in opposing HB 1096 that would prevent progress and efficiency in the ability to trace back cattle when necessary.