Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) animal health agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), announced it would not implement its July 5, 2020 Federal Register Notice that would have required the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) eartags on all adult cattle and bison moved in interstate commerce beginning January 1, 2023.
In formal comments submitted in October, R-CALF USA argued that APHIS’ mandatory RFID notice was unlawful and the only way the agency could change current law was to conduct a formal rulemaking process.
APHIS’ announcement indicates that is exactly what the agency intends to do. It has finally agreed to abandon its unlawful notice and, should it move forward with a mandatory RFID program in the future, it will only do so through a formal rulemaking process.
APHIS first tried to mandate the use of RFID eartags in April 2019, also setting January 1, 2023 as the mandate’s start date. R-CALF USA, through its attorney Harriet Hageman of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, filed a lawsuit alleging that such mandate was unlawful. Within weeks, the agency withdrew its mandate. It again tried to issue essentially the same mandate through its July 2020 notice. Having apparently received substantial opposition to this latest approach, APHIS has now announced that it will comply with the rulemaking process for any future action related to RFID requirements.
As a result of today’s action, cattle producers will retain the flexibility to use either low-cost technology such as metal or plastic eartags, higher-cost technology such as RFID eartags, or brands, tattoos, group/lot identification and backtags, all of which are authorized under current law when adult cattle and bison are moved interstate.
“Today’s announcement is good news for U.S. cattle producers as it means the impending threat of a costly RFID mandate is now removed, but we must not stop defending the rights of producers because it’s clear the agency fully intends to continue efforts to force this costly mandate upon America’s independent cattle producers,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
R-CALF USA filed an amended lawsuit following APHIS’ withdrawal of its original 2019 RFID mandate alleging the agency violated yet another law, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, by establishing and then using a committee of pro-RFID eartag members, including eartag manufacturing companies, to assist it in formulating its mandatory RFID strategy. That lawsuit is pending in Wyoming’s federal district court.
“We are pleased that APHIS is coming to the realization that it must follow the law when considering how best to provide for animal identification and traceability. Mandating RFID requirements through an illegal process doesn’t serve anyone in the livestock industry, least of all our cattle and bison producers,” said Hageman.