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USDA proposes most cattle have electronic ear tags by 2023

Switch to RFID tags strengthens Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system

cattle electronic ear tags

FRANKFORT, Ky. — In an ongoing effort to increase animal traceability, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on a proposal that would only recognize radio frequency identification (RFID) devices as the official ear tag for interstate movement of cattle and bison that are required to be identified by animal disease traceability rules.

Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 5, 2020 at the following site: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-14463. After reviewing all comments, APHIS will publish a follow up Federal Register notice. This notice will respond to any such comments, announce a decision whether to approve RFID tags as the only official identification devices for cattle and provide the timeline for such a transition.

“If approved, by 2023 only RFID tags will be considered official identification,” Dr. Robert C. Stout, state veterinarian,  said. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing RFID tags replace metal tags to improve our ability to trace animal movement quickly and efficiently in the event of a livestock disease outbreak. A strong traceability system is absolutely essential to maintaining international markets for Kentucky and U.S. cattle.”

While the RFID tags would not prevent a disease outbreak, it would allow animal health officials to more quickly contain an outbreak before it can do substantial damage to the U.S. cattle industry.

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 life.

“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is dedicated to working with producers and industry organizations to help with a speedy and orderly transition to RFID ear tags,” Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles said. “In the weeks and months to come, we will be speaking to industry groups to help them understand the importance of the switch. As we get updates from USDA, we will pass them along to Kentucky producers.”

“We appreciate the Kentucky Department of Agriculture for being proactive in getting the word out about this important cattle identification proposal,” said Dave Maples, executive director of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association. “The transition from metal to RFID tags will strengthen the traceability system by providing information faster and protecting our markets in the event of a disease outbreak.”

“I appreciate KDA getting out the information on the comment period and for explaining that the same animals we tag now are the only ones covered by this change,” added Jim Akers, CEO of the Bluegrass Livestock Marketing Association.

“Animal disease traceability is essential for animal agriculture to be viable in international markets,” said H. H. Barlow, executive director of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council.

“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has always been proactive in leading the country in animal disease control and prevention. RFID tags is one way to help trace the interstate and intrastate movement of cattle. Kentucky’s dairy farmers understand the value of traceability and appreciate Commissioner Quarles and KDA’s leadership on this issue.”

Animals that will require official, individual RFID tags include:
• Beef cattle and bison that are sexually intact and 18 months or older;
• Beef cattle and bison used for rodeo or recreational events (regardless of age);
• Beef cattle and bison used for shows or exhibitions;
• All female dairy cattle; and
• All male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013.

Cattle staying on the farm will not be required to have an RFID tag.

“It is recommended that all cattle requiring official ID have a RFID tag,” Stout said. “This means eligible cattle sold at a Kentucky livestock market or moving interstate off of the farm would be identified with a RFID.”