Amid industry opposition, USDA has backed off a plan to require radio frequency ID tags for dairy cattle and beef breeding stock.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service had published the change in April as a way to speed up the location of animals during disease outbreaks.
But the agency changed course days after cattlemen’s group R-CALF USA filed suit in federal court in Wyoming, claiming the ear tag rule was unlawful.
A few days later, President Donald Trump strengthened the cattle group’s argument, issuing an executive order that underscores that guidance documents are nonbinding.
Trump said federal agencies have sometimes used guidance documents to skirt the formal rulemaking process and implement policies that “may carry the implicit threat of enforcement action if the regulated public does not comply.”
Scrapping the move to electronic tags will save cattle producers an estimated $11 million a year.
But the decision leaves in place a system largely based on metal tags and cumbersome paper records that could hamper response to a fast-moving disease, said Steve Dittmer, executive vice president of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation.
“It is true that the U.S. would have had an overall animal traceability system in place, well tested and revised by now, except for the opposition of R-CALF and similar groups over a decade ago,” Dittmer contended in Beef Magazine.
The RFID plan announced earlier this year would have been phased in by 2023.
USDA plans to write a new ear tag proposal and provide opportunity for public comment.
In the meantime, the agency will provide financial incentives for farmers to use RFID tags.