Federal court in Wyoming asked to block RFID technology

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Livestock producers represented by the Billings, MT cattlemen’s group known as R-CALF say they have a  “right” to use “traditional low-cost methods related to animal identification and traceability.” 

But USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) with growing support from such industry leaders as Tyson Foods wants to soon require “radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags for tracking animals in the United States.

The new technology — replacing everything back to the branding iron—is needed in the world where quick tracking during outbreaks of animal disease is critical to limiting the economic harm that’s possible.

R-CALF, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a legal nonprofit, is trying to hold the line against an RFID mandate in U.S. District Court for Wyoming.  In its most recent filing, NCLA contends there is legal significance in the status of two USDA advisory committees-  the “Cattle Traceability Working Group”  and the “Producer Traceability Council.”

“This case comes down to whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its subagency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (collectively “USDA”), either “established” or “utilized” two advisory committees within the meaning of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), “ NCLA’s latest court document says.

NCLA’s brief argues that USDA’s APHIS subagency “failed to comply with the statutory requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).”

USDA reportedly has been silent on the status of the two committees.

The CTWG was formed in 2017 with the goal of transitioning to a mandatory RFID regime that would be advanced by creating an industry-led task force to provide “technical advice” and support, NCLA claims.

The withdrawal of a two-page factsheet suggesting livestock producers use RFID ear tags seemed to mute the legal issue at one point.

“The controversy, however, remains alive because USDA is moving ahead with plans to mandate RFID for cattle by 2023, R-CALF’s attorneys said in a press release.

A  news release by USDA just last month stated, “[USDA] believe[s] that RFID tags will provide the cattle industry with the best protection against the rapid spread of animal diseases.” 

USDA, however,  hasn’t finalized a proposed rule to implement radio frequency identification (RFID) as the official ear tag for use in the interstate movement of cattle. Instead.   In the meantime,  all current APHIS-approved methods of identification may be used as official identification until further notice.  APHIS issuing the rule-making process for future RFID actions.

“So long as USDA continues to pursue mandatory RFID in violation of the 2013 Final Rule, a live controversy continues to exist because the threat remains that USDA will seek to make use of RFID-related work product and recommendations from advisory committees set up and operated in violation of FACA,” R-CALF’s statements added.

NCLA asked the Wyoming Court to enter judgment in favor of R-CALF USA and the four plaintiff ranchers on their claims that CTWG and the PTC are federal advisory committees covered by FACA, and that USDA failed to comply with procedures required by FACA for those committees. 

Further, they want the Cheyenne-based Court to enjoin USDA from using the work product and recommendations solicited from those committees with respect to the implementation of RFID technology for livestock moving interstate. 

Tyson Fresh Meats, the beef, and pork subsidiary of Tyson Foods, Inc., last week became the first beef processor to invest in a membership in the program, which was formed by multiple state cattlemen’s organizations to develop a national infrastructure for animal disease traceability in the U.S. cattle industry. 

 U.S. CattleTrace utilizes ear tags that contain ultra-high frequency technologies to collect the minimal data necessary, including an individual animal identification number, a GPS location, and date and time.

This information is used to track animals in the event of a disease outbreak and allows tracking of the animal from location of birth and to each location, they travel prior to reaching a processor for harvest. An electronic chip within the tag interacts with the radio frequency emitted by the reader. Though the tags are electronic, they are not battery operated, meaning they can last the lifetime of the animal.

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