If all goes as planned, the USDA intends to require the use of electronic ear tags using radio frequency identification (RFID) nationwide for beef, dairy cattle and bison moving interstate by Jan. 1, 2023, to speed up information capture and sharing of animal movement.
If realized, livestock producers in other states will finally be catching up with their Michigan peers. Driven by the state’s bovine tuberculosis (TB) eradication efforts, RFID ear tags have been mandatory in Michigan since March 1, 2007, according to Michigan Farm Bureau Livestock Specialist Ernie Birchmeier.
He expects that implementing RFID technology will also help to ensure long-term marketability and the economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry based on customer demand and consumer expectations.
“Without question, animal disease traceability is greatly improved through RFID tags — it helps state and federal animal health officials know where diseased and at-risk animals are, and when and where they’ve been,” Birchmeier said. “Michigan livestock producers know just how essential this information can be when dealing with a disease outbreak.”
According to Birchmeier, the time needed to determine which animals require testing using paper records in the event of a disease outbreak can be reduced from weeks or months to only a few hours with RFID ear tags.
“This helps producers by significantly reducing the number of animals involved in disease investigations,” Birchmeier said. “It will also help animal movements from affected areas happen more quickly – while still ensuring no one else receives exposed animals.”
Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, animals that move interstate and fall into specific categories will need an official, individual RFID ear tags. This does not include feeder cattle. Under current USDA regulations, feeder cattle, as well as other cattle and bison that move directly to slaughter, do not require individual identification.
According to USDA, animals that will require official, individual RFID tags include:
Beef Cattle & Bison
- Sexually intact and 18 months or older
- Used for the rodeo or recreational events (regardless of age)
- Used for shows or exhibitions
- All female dairy cattle
- All male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013
Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, all cattle and bison that are required to have official identification under current regulations must have official RFID ear tags. The tags should be applied at the time of birth or before the animal moves off the farm in interstate commerce.
RFID ear tags can be low or ultrahigh frequency — whichever the State, producer or industry sector prefers. Tags must be approved by USDA and meet standards for quality and performance, be tamper proof, contain a unique ID, and display the U.S. official ear tag shield.
Tags can be part of a matched set with visual identification. RFID tags will be available to replace the orange, metal brucellosis tags.
Birchmeier said that while there are several steps the USDA needs to take to implement the nationwide RFID mandate, the most essential one is the move from metal identification tags to electronic identification tags in beef and dairy cattle, as well as in bison.
“USDA understands this represents a big change for the industry and individual producers,” Birchmeier said. “Even though the implementation of electronic identification is still several years away, USDA has indicated they are committed to supporting producers as they transition from metal to RFID tags.”
USDA will work with state animal health officials to cost-share official RFID ear tags (instead of the free metal tags currently provided for cattle covered under the current regulation), to reduce the cost that producers pay for RFID ear tags.
USDA and state-level partners will also provide funding to support electronic readers for markets and accredited veterinarians as a critical component to implementing the electronic system.
Much like the current system in Michigan, a premise identification number (PIN) is required to purchase official ID tags. USDA has a new interactive map that helps direct producers to state-specific resources for obtaining a PIN: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/traceability/state-pin/
States will approve and allocate discounted tags, managing the process through the current infrastructure. Accredited veterinarians may continue to inventory and apply official ID tags but must adhere to recordkeeping requirements.
USDA will maintain a list of approved manufacturers. Accredited veterinarians or producers may purchase official, approved tags directly from tag manufacturers or retailers.
USDA RFID Implementation Timeline:
- Dec. 31, 2019 — USDA will discontinue providing free metal tags. However, approved vendors will still be permitted to produce official metal tags for one additional year. Approved vendor tags will be available for purchase on a state-by-state basis as authorized by each state animal health official through Dec. 31, 2020.
- Jan. 1, 2021 — USDA will no longer approve vendor production of metal ear tags with the official USDA shield. Accredited veterinarians and/or producers can no longer apply metal ear tags for official identification and must start using only Official RFID tags.
- Jan. 1, 2023 — RFID ear tags will be required for beef and dairy cattle and bison moving interstate that meets the above requirements, animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged with RFID ear tags in order to move interstate, and feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter are not subject to RFID requirements.