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Email Content: Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

Montana Ranchers Sue over USDA RFID Mandate


The Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming in Casper opposing the USDA-APHIS mandate requiring radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for cattle. This action is now moot as the USDA-APHIS has apparently relented under Presidential pressure and will recognize brands, tattoos but encourages the use of RFID technology.


R-CALF had requested a ruling from a U.S. District Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal to set aside the RFID program which they characterized as “arbitrary capricious and an abuse of discretion and therefore unlawful”. The 48-page R-CALF complaint was authored by Harriet M. Hageman, Senior Litigation Counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance.


Traditionally ranchers have used metal ear tags and brands to identify cattle based on practice extending back generations. The RFID technology was mandated by USDA-APHIS in a 2019 Final Rule replacing a Rule previously issued in 2013 to identify cattle to be moved across state lines.


RFID implants are regarded as inexpensive, practical and provide maximum flexibility for ranchers, tribal governments, Federal and state veterinary authorities. Electronic identification is widely used internationally and would be a cornerstone of any traceability system including Blockchain.  Electronic tags have a 15-digit identifying number that can be scanned remotely.  Effective 2021 the USDA will discontinue providing metal tags that will no longer be acceptable for official identification.


The plaintiffs maintained that the USDA lacked legal authority to require individual RFID tags on cattle, dairy cows and bison.  R-CALF also complained that the USDA implemented the 2019 plan without appropriate notice in the Federal Register thereby preventing public comment.  The ranchers included a statement in their complaint “the 2019 plan requirements are in fact intended to repeal and replace critically important aspects of the 2013 Final Rule including approved livestock identification methods.”


It is evident that a modern, electronic system of identification is required which is not subject to manipulation or tampering, given the consequences of a potentially catastrophic infection such as foot and mouth disease or an erosive condition such as brucellosis. Positive identification of individual animals will be required to impose restrictions on movement including quarantines.  R-CALF is myopic in opposing the USDA-APHIS program since in the long term it will benefit both the domestic market and exports.


The outcome of the attempt by USDA-APHIS to mandate RFID has implications for the poultry industry. It appears that the authority of USDA-APHIS to regulate disease is subject to direct pressure directed to the White House and is not the prerogative of specialists in regulating livestock health. The same organizations railing against RFID and similar restrictions will be the first to criticize and demand action in the event of extension of brucellosis and tuberculosis or worse still an outbreak of an exotic disease such as foot and mouth.

Copyright © 2020 Simon M. Shane