EID Tags Needed for Disease Tracking

USDA Proposes Electronic Ear Tag Rule for Cattle and Bison Crossing State Lines

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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An electronic identification ear tag commonly used among livestock producers. USDA will propose a rule requiring the use of such EID ear tags for cattle and bison crossing state lines if they are 18 months and older, and sexually intact, or if they are dairy cattle or animals used in rodeos or exhibitions. At least one cattlemen's group opposes mandatory EID ear tags. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Thursday will propose a rule to require both visual and readable electronic ear tags for interstate movement of cattle and bison.

The proposed rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, has some nuances defining the livestock that will fall under the rule. Those include:

-- All sexually intact cattle and bison 18 months of age and older;

-- All female dairy cattle of any age and all male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013;

-- Cattle and bison of any age used for rodeo or recreational events;

-- And cattle and bison of any age used for shows or exhibitions.

Electronic identification tags for livestock movements have been a source of debate and controversy for more than two decades. Arguments about their value and use in tracing animal diseases were highlighted in 2003 after the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first discovered in the United States. The cattle industry has been slowly moving towards greater traceability rules and technology ever since.

The proposed rule comes while the Ranchers-Cattlemen's Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) has a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court over a proposed 2019 USDA rule involving radio-frequency identification (RFID) ear tags. The Supreme Court has asked the Biden administration to respond to R-CALF's petition, said Bill Bullard, CEO of the group. The federal government's response could lead the High Court to take up the case or reject R-CALF's appeal.

"We're hopeful that the Supreme Court will take it up," Bullard said.

Reading the new proposal, USDA mostly uses the term electronic identification (EID) ear tags, but essentially the only way to achieve EID is through RFID.

"They say now that tags will require a number and an electronic chip," Bullard said. "It has to be visibly and electronically readable. They are not specifying RFID, but they admit RFID is the only technology that currently fits the electronically readable definition, so they are still requiring RFID technology if you want to ship adult cattle across state lines."

Earlier in January, Bullard called on livestock producers to contact their members of Congress and urge them to pass a law that would prevent USDA from mandating RFID ear tags.

Todd Wilkinson, president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), said the group has remain engaged with USDA and industry stakeholders on animal traceability.


"It is critical that any program ultimately adopted by USDA allows for maximum flexibility and privacy. At the same time, USDA must also minimize the costs for producers and any business disruptions to the industry," Wilkinson said.

Citing the risks of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks globally -- and the depopulated livestock that go along with that disease -- "the need for bold action is immediate and evident," Wilkinson added. Still, Wilkinson indicated animal traceability rules also must be workable and the group is reviewing the proposal.

"Cattle producers can be confident that any finished product will protect our national livestock herd," Wilkinson said. "We will ensure it provides maximum producer privacy and flexibility with minimal costs, exactly what our stakeholders have told us they expect from USDA."

In a statement on the proposal, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association (USCA) cited that about 89% of the U.S. cattle and bison heard "WILL NOT be impacted by the changes in this proposal," but added that the group's members "understand the importance of building an animal traceability system that doesn't burden producers, is effective for disease tracebacks, and maintains the confidentiality of individuals."

USCA's Animal Health and Identification Committee will soon meet to discuss the contents of the proposed rule and formulate a response, the group stated.


In its proposal, APHIS highlighted the need to improve the ability to trace animals back from slaughter and forward from the animals' home farm or ranch, as well as tracing additional movements of the livestock.

Tracing the location and movement of animals doesn't prevent animal disease outbreaks, but does allow state, federal and tribal veterinarians to limit potentially disease outbreaks and limit the damage they can cause to the U.S. cattle and bison industries, APHIS stated. "A comprehensive animal disease traceability system is the best protection against a devastating disease outbreak," APHIS stated in the proposed rule.

Highlighting the risks that foot-and-mouth disease would cause, APHIS noted "time is critical" when it comes to tracing animal movements. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) can transmit from animal to animal in as little as 34 to 48 hours. While not found in the U.S., APHIS stated "even a small outbreak of FMD would have multi-billion-dollar impacts on U.S. livestock producers' access to export markets with additional losses to production, reproduction and animal population."

Other diseases such as bovine tuberculosis move slowly but can infect multiple herds before the disease is detected.

APHIS stated EID ear tags "offer a number of advantages over non-EID ear tags." Simple visual ear tags can be harder to read, and the numbers on the tags could be only recorded on paper, or manually entered into a database. For EID ear tags, they can be read as livestock pass by an electronic reader. Once the ear tag is scanned, then the tag number can be quickly transmitted to a database.


This reduces the risk of error and makes it significantly quicker for veterinarians to access the information, APHIS noted.

"Disease investigations that involve tracing an animal with electronic records take only minutes to hours, while searching paper records for a visual ear tag number can take days to weeks or longer," APHIS stated. "Shorter disease investigations minimize the impact on individual producers, herds, businesses, and communities."

In moving cattle and bison across state lines, USDA records show about 11 million cattle per year from 2017-21 had only visual identification tags that were not electronic, which equates to about 11% of the national herds for cattle and bison.

A cost-benefit analysis from USDA estimated it would cost about $26.1 million per year to purchase roughly 11 million EID ear tags for those producers who currently do not use EID ear tags on their cattle or bison.

Under the proposal, EID ear tags would be required six months after a final rule is published in the Federal Register.

APHIS is also proposing new rules for record retention and access requirement for record pertaining to slaughter cattle.

The proposed rule will have a 60-day comment period that should run until March 22.

The rule will be published Jan. 19 in the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/…

Also see, "Ask the Vet, On-Farm Cattle IDs and Traceability," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Chris Clayton