New rules for electronic ear tags for cattle

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program

Producers shipping certain types of cattle and bison across state lines might have to use electronic identification (EID or RFID) tags if a final rule developed by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) becomes effective. Federal funding is available to help producers obtain the EID tags. But efforts are underway to stop the EID rule from taking effect. As we’ve seen in the past, disagreements continue over animal traceability and EID mandates. Here’s an update on the current events surrounding the EID issue.

The APHIS final rule

The final rule announced by APHIS on April 26, 2024 will amend the animal traceability rule enacted in 2013. That rule requires “official identification” on certain cattle and bison moved in interstate shipment for the purpose of animal disease traceability. Under the rule, “visual” ear tags are a form of official identification, in addition to certain pre-approved brands and tattoos and group lots.

The new final rule, originally proposed in 2022, will expand the requirements for ear tags used as official identification. For animals tagged after the rule’s effective date, the ear tags “must be readable both visually and electronically (EID).”

The EID rule will continue to apply only to these types of cattle and bison when shipped across state lines:

  • Sexually intact cattle and bison 18 months of age or older;
  • Dairy cattle;
  • Cattle and bison of any age used for rodeo or recreation events, shows, or exhibitions.

Effective date of the rule. The EID requirement is not yet effective. The final rule will take effect 180-days after the rule was published in the Federal Register. USDA published the final rule on May 9, 2024, making the effective date Nov. 5, 2024.

Funding for EID tags. Before APHIS finalized the rule, Congress approved funding to help producers voluntarily obtain EID tags, which cost around $3 each. The Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in March of 2024 allocated $15 million for EID. Ohio producers should contact the State Veterinarian’s office at the Ohio Department of Agriculture for information about the availability of free EID tags that comply with the official identification requirements.

EID bill in Congress

A bill introduced on May 8 by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) would counteract the APHIS final rule. The one-paragraph bill simply states: “The Secretary of Agriculture shall not implement any rule or regulation requiring the mandatory use of electronic identification eartags on cattle or bison.”

Why the debate over EID?

Animal traceability has long been a controversial issue for the livestock industry. APHIS and Sen. Rounds capture the two sides of the controversy well with their recent statements summarizing their efforts. APHIS explains that “the most significant benefits will be enhanced ability to limit disease outbreak impact in the U.S., as well as maintaining foreign markets.”

On the other hand, Sen. Rounds states that “USDA’s proposed RFID mandate is federal government overreach, plain and simple. If farmers and ranchers want to use electronic tags, they can do so voluntarily.”

What’s next?

Given the slow pace of legislative activity in Congress, it’s unlikely that Sen. Rounds’ proposal will affect the Nov. 5 effective date of the EID final rule. Several associations have threatened to bring legal action against the rule, however, so it’s likely we’ll see litigation and other legal challenges. As seems always to be the case with animal traceability, we still don’t yet know what the future holds.

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