Cattle Industry Controversy: Mandatory Electronic Identification (EID)

In late April 2024, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced final disease traceability rule requirements, mandating electronic identification (EID) tags for interstate transport of specific classes of cattle and bison. The new rule is an amendment to a 2013 rule requiring that all sexually intact cattle 18 months and older, rodeo and exhibition cattle, and dairy cattle being moved between states, have a government-approved visual ID tag. The newly revised rule requires these animals to have a government-approved ID tag that is both visual and electronically readable. The rule goes into effect later this year, six months after publication in the Federal Register.

Controlling Disease Outbreak to Maintain Global Market Access

The rule is intended to help control the spread of disease and, in doing so, aid in maintaining access to foreign markets for United States beef through precise electronic identification that should limit outbreaks of disease. Theoretically, if a disease outbreak were to take place in one area of the United States, and properly contained, it would prevent a ban on all US beef exports. This is critical for maintaining US beef exports, as confidence in food safety is imperative for selling to other countries.

According to USDA data, US beef exports averaged $10.7 billion annually over the 2021-2023 three-year period, and totaled more than one million metric tons in 2023. From 2014 to 2023, the top ten countries US beef is exported to were South Korea, Japan, China, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the European Union, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. The US also imports beef, with some year’s imports exceeding exports.

National Animal ID Previously Considered

The possibility of implementing a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) has been under consideration since 2005, following a rare outbreak of “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) in the US in December 2003. The initial NAIS plan required premises registration, electronic animal identification, and tracking of all movements for all livestock in the country, including species ranging from chickens to horses.

Due to widespread opposition, the initial NAIS plan was withdrawn in 2010. The USDA then refocused its efforts on “a new, flexible framework” that would apply only to animals moved in interstate commerce and encourage the use of lower-cost technology. In 2013, USDA adopted the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) rule, allowing both traditional and electronic forms of animal identification.

Plastic ear tags are the most common, traditional, individual ID. In a number of western states, the permanent silver Bangs tag, are applied to breeding age cows, indicating that they have been vaccinated against brucellosis, or Bangs disease. In 1897, Bangs was the Danish veterinarian who identified the disease, which causes contagious abortion in cattle and can be transmitted between wildlife and domestic species. The requirement for Bangs vaccine is largely due to certain western states’ proximity to Yellowstone National Park and its resident bison population. Bison commonly carry and transmit the disease.

Until now, the use of EID has been voluntary, and the debate about making it mandatory has been a volatile and controversial issue in the livestock industry. Some producers see it simply as a technological improvement to an already established tracing system, and as being necessary to maintain the health and viability of the beef industry in the modern world. Others consider it to be an unnecessary financial burden and an infringement on freedoms and private property rights in the form of mandatory animal registration and monitoring.

Pros: Streamlined Operations, Increased Marketability

Operations already employing EID attest that it has served to simplify and streamline operations, making it easier to identify cattle being treated, and make recordkeeping easier. Additionally, EID-marked cattle could bring slightly higher prices.

The tags are passive, meaning that they have no battery or power source of their own. They are similar to bar codes and are read when they pass within the transmission field of the reader wands. The wand absorbs power from the tag and then returns the 15 digits to the reader. Information from the reader can be integrated into cattle management computer software and spreadsheets.

There are two types of EID, also known as radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags: HDX (half duplex) and FDX (full duplex) ear tags. HDX tags have a slightly longer read range and are more expensive. The 15-digit tags are also sometimes referred to as “840” tags. The first three digits on EID tags signify that the animal is from the US. The remaining 12 digits on the tag are unique to individual animals.

Cons: Limited Effectiveness, Violation of Privacy and Freedoms, Unnecessary Expense

Some producers believe mandatory EID is an invasion of privacy and have concerns regarding how the data could be used. There are concerns that EIDs will be no more effective than currently existing technology in identifying and containing the spread of disease, and the new system could be used to limit the number of animals that producers are allowed to own. There is also concern about EIDs being used to levy carbon taxes in support of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) ideology, which is aligned with the globalist and environmental extremist agendas. Then, there is the additional cost.

Concerns about expenses are also valid. EID tags average about $3 each, and the wands to read them cost between $1,500 and $2,500 each. With the adoption of the new EID requirement, USDA made available $15 million to producers to cover the cost of tags. It is not yet clear how long that money will be available, or if additional funds will be available in the future. Producers are being advised to contact their State Veterinarians to obtain tags.

USDA’s analysis of early NAIS pilot programs showed extremely low participation and high error rates in data recording. Additionally, a 2010 Congressional Research Service Report showed only 18 percent participation by cattle producers in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), rendering NAIS entirely ineffective as a tool for controlling animal disease. USDA estimates the new EID mandate will cover a mere 11 percent of US cattle. If 18 percent was too low to be effective, 11 percent of cattle (approximately 11 million cattle) being EID tagged will undoubtedly be ineffective in achieving stated goals.

Inevitable Changes in Agriculture

Changes in agriculture are inevitable. A century ago, much of farming was still done with equipment pulled by draft animals. The invention and eventual widespread use of the tractor made draft animals obsolete in crop farming practices. Nevertheless, horses are still considered by many today to be the best option for moving and working cattle.

EID is likely here to stay. Whether it provides value remains to be seen. There is no question that a safe, nutritious, affordable, accessible, and plentiful food supply is essential for the prosperity of mankind and food security for Americans. If EIDs are utilized to that end, the benefits may outweigh the potential risks. With that said, taking into account numerous agendas, combined with the current political climate, the implications of widespread electronic ID are not without valid concerns.

Because of these concerns, US Senator Mike Rounds (R – S.D.) has introduced legislation that would prevent the USDA from implementing mandatory EID.  Rounds stated:

“USDA’s proposed RFID mandate is federal government overreach, plain and simple. I’m pleased to be introducing this legislation to block the Secretary of Agriculture from mandating the use of electronic tags in cattle and bison herds. If farmers and ranchers want to use electronic tags, they can do so voluntarily.”

The legislation is supported by several cattle industry groups. Doris Lauing, Executive Director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, stated:

“Whereas we have had ample protection and means to trace any animal health issues in the past, the mandatory direction by the United States government to use electronic animal ID tags will be a violation of constitutional personal property rights and unnecessary expense.”

At Protect The Harvest, we will continue our mission to inform, protect, and respond, while defending and promoting A Free And Fed America.

Helpful Links:


Final APHIS rule HERE

Senator Rounds’ bill HERE

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