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USDA advances RFID tag program for cattle disease traceability

APHIS awards contracts to provide cattle and bison producers with up to 8 million low-frequency RFID tags.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently awarded contracts to purchase up to 8 million low-frequency radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags, which will help increase overall animal disease traceability in cattle and bison.

APHIS said the contract allows it to purchase additional tags each year for up to five years.

“USDA continues its commitment to protecting our nation’s animal agriculture by increasing traceability in the cattle and bison sectors -- in this case, by providing free RFID tags to interested producers,” USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs Greg Ibach said. “This will not only help offset the costs of switching to RFID tags but also help us more quickly respond to potential disease events.”

USDA believes that RFID devices will provide states and the cattle and bison industries with the best opportunity to rapidly contain the spread of high-economic impact diseases, APHIS said.

Use of RFID tags better positions the livestock industry and state and federal veterinarians to accurately and quickly trace animals exposed or infected with potentially devastating diseases before they can do substantial damage to the U.S. livestock industry, the agency said.

These RFID tags will be provided to animal health officials and will be distributed for use in replacement breeding cattle and bison at no cost to the producer, APHIS explained. RFID low-frequency official calfhood vaccination (OCV) button tags are available for brucellosis-vaccinated animals, and official “840” white button tags are available for non-vaccinated heifers.

APHIS noted that free metal "National Uniform Eartagging System" tags will remain available as USDA continues to receive comments and evaluate next steps on its proposed RFID transition timeline.

That proposal is available for review and public comment through Oct. 5, 2020.

Contracts for the RFID tags were awarded to three U.S. tag companies: Allflex, Datamars and Y-Tex. Contracting with all three manufacturers will allow USDA to procure the number of tags needed to meet an industry volume equivalent to the number of replacement heifers in the U.S., APHIS said.

As part of its overall effort to increase traceability in cattle and bison, APHIS distributed more than 1.1 million RFID tags to 38 states between January and July 2020. Each state veterinarian distributes the tags in a way that best serves their industry. For more information on availability and distribution of tags, producers can contact their state veterinarian’s office. Producers can also purchase RFID tags for their animals by contacting any of the companies approved to manufacture official identification RFID tags, APHIS said.

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