USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is seeking public comment on a proposal where APHIS would only approve Radio Frequency Identification as the official eartag for use in interstate movement of cattle that are required to be identified by the traceability regulations.
An official eartag is defined as an identification tag approved by APHIS that bears an official identification number for individual animals. Regulations allow APHIS to approve tags that can be used as official identification, and both metal and RFID tags are current options.
A transition to RFID tags would support APHIS’ ongoing efforts to increase animal disease traceability by more accurately and rapidly allowing animal health officials to know where affected and at-risk animals are located. While this would not prevent disease outbreaks, it would allow animal health officials to more quickly contain outbreaks.
APHIS is also seeking comment on a proposed timeline for implementation, which the agency would use if this transition occurs. The timeline would make RFID tags the only option for use in cattle and bison requiring official identification on Jan. 1, 2023. APHIS would “grandfather in” animals that have metal tags already in place on that date – their metal tags would serve as official identification for the remainder of their lifespan.
This transition timeline would not alter the existing regulations. The cattle and bison that must be identified will not change, nor will the option for animal health officials in shipping and receiving states to agree to accept alternate forms of identification, including brands and tattoos, in lieu of official identification.
Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 5, 2020 at the following site: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-14463. After reviewing comments, APHIS will publish a follow up Federal Register notice. This notice will respond to comments, announce its decision whether to only approve RFID tags as the only official identification devices for cattle, and, if so, provide the timeline for such a transition.
As of July 6, one comment had been filed on the proposal. A veterinarian from the Michigan
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development wrote "It is my opinion that the cattle industry must move forward to accept this technology. It is not meant to be any form of privacy invasion and you cannot read the tags from a satellite as some have speculated. . . . Overall, I feel that the benefits of using RFID as official ID far outweigh it limitations. As consumers demand to know more about where their food comes from this system would give them a closer look at our industry and provide some reassurance that we can find the source(s) in the case of disease or food-borne illnesses."
In October 2019, Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America sued USDA on the issue in U.S. District Court for Wyoming, according to Food Safety News. The organization wanted the RFID plan declared “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and unlawful. . .” The suit blocked the agency's first attempt to mandate the exclusive use of RFID tags.