Electronic ear tags to be required for cattle

Electronic ear tags to be required for cattle

Electronic ear tags to be required for cattle

Dairy cattle and beef breeding stock will be required to have radio frequency ID (RFID) tags, replacing the familiar orange metal ear tags, to move interstate starting in 2023. 

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced the change in April as a way to speed up the location of animals during disease outbreaks. 

Animal disease traceability helps animal health officials know where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they have been, and when. 

This information is essential during a disease outbreak. USDA is currently working to strengthen its traceability system to protect the long-term health, marketability and economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry. Achieving this goal is only possible through continued federal, state and industry collaboration. USDA is committed to keeping our partners informed about our plans and progress as we work together to build the traceability system. 

The transition is projected to take four years and this time will be used to educate and encourage cattle, dairy and bison producers to start taking steps toward electronic identification.

Changing to RFID will enhance animal health officials’ ability to locate specific animals quickly during an outbreak, according to the USDA.  

In the past, what might have taken weeks or months using paper records to determine which animals need to be tested, could be as short as a few hours with electronic identification. 

“This helps producers by significantly reducing the number of animals involved in disease investigations. It will also help animal movements from affected areas happen more quickly – while still ensuring no one else receives exposed animals,” states the USDA in its “Advancing Animal Disease Traceability: A Plan to Achieve Electronic Identification in Cattle and Bison,” factsheet (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/plan-to-achieve-eid-factsheet.pdf).

Individual official RFID tags will only be accepted as official identification for livestock moving interstate, including:

Beef Cattle & Bison

• Sexually intact cattle that are 18 months or older

• Used for rodeo or recreations events (regardless of age)

• Used for shows or exhibitions

Dairy Cattle

• All female dairy cattle

• All male dairy cattle born after March 11, 2013

Feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter are not subject to the new RFID requirements.

The enhanced ability to track animals could increase the appeal of U.S. beef exports. The electronic tags should also reduce the risk of misidentifying animals. Metal tags can break and become illegible when dirty.

USDA will stop offering the free metal tags at the end of this year, but vendors will be able to sell metal tags through the end of 2020. USDA understands producers need time to transition to RFID and has worked with the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials to establish manageable milestones to achieve this goal. 

The following is the 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 meet the above requirements. Animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged with RFID ear tags in order to move interstate. Feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter are not subject to RFID requirements.

Cattle producers will have to pay for the RFID tags, but USDA and the states will subsidize the cost. Electronic ear tags cost $1.50 to $2 apiece depending on the number purchased. States will approve and offer the discounted tags, and veterinarians may continue to apply the tags. USDA estimates that getting the new tags will cost cattle producers nationwide at least $11 million a year. 

A premises 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/

   In lieu of RFID tags, cattle brands may still be accepted as official identification if the animal health authorities in both the shipping and receiving states approve. If you have additional questions, please email: traceability@aphis.usda.gov