USDA seeks comment on ear tags by Oct. 5

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Cattle on pasture.
Cattle on pasture.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is seeking public comment on a proposal where APHIS would only approve Radio Frequency Identification as the official ear tag for use in interstate movement of cattle that are required to be identified by the traceability regulations.

An official ear tag is defined as an identification tag approved by APHIS that bears an official identification number for individual animals. Regulations allow the service to approve tags that can be used as official identification, and both metal and RFID tags are current options.

A transition to RFID tags would support APHIS’ ongoing efforts to increase animal disease traceability by more accurately and rapidly allowing animal health officials to know where affected and at-risk animals are located.

While this would not prevent disease outbreaks, it would allow animal health officials to more quickly contain outbreaks early before they can do substantial damage to the U.S. cattle industry.

The service is also seeking comment on a proposed timeline for implementation, which the agency would use if this transition occurs. The timeline would make RFID tags the only option for use in cattle and bison requiring official identification on Jan. 1, 2023.

The service would “grandfather in” animals that have metal tags already in place on that date — their metal tags would serve as official identification for the remainder of their lifespan. This transition timeline would not alter the existing regulations.

The cattle and bison that must be identified will not change, nor will the option for animal health officials in shipping and receiving states to agree to accept alternate forms of identification, including brands and tattoos, in lieu of official identification.

Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 5 at https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2020-14463. After reviewing all comments, APHIS will publish a follow up Federal Register notice. This notice will respond to any such comments, announce the decision whether to only approve RFID tags as the only official identification devices for cattle, and, if so, provide the timeline for such a transition.

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