APHIS finalizes rule requiring electronic ID tags for certain cattle, bison

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced April 26 it will issue a final rule that mandates electronic identification (EID) tags for interstate movement of certain cattle and bison to prevent disease outbreaks.

The advance copy of the rule states that 180 days after publication, all official ear tags applied to such cattle and bison must be visually and electronically readable. The regulation enhances a previous 2013 rule that requires all sexually intact cattle and bison 18 months of age or older, dairy cattle, and rodeo and exhibition cattle to have an official form of animal identification.

The 2013 rule instituted visual ID tags for interstate movement. The new final rule switches producers to EID tags. Additionally, the new rule clarifies certain record retention and access requirements and revises some requirements applying to slaughter cattle.

A cow with an EID ear tag being scanned
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is implementing a modern system that tracks animals using affordable technology to trace sick and exposed animals to stop disease spread quickly. The latest regulation mandates the use of electronic identification tags for specific interstate movements of cattle and bison.

The most significant benefit of the rule for farmers and ranchers is the enhanced national capability to limit the impacts of animal disease outbreaks to certain regions, the USDA said in a press release.

“Rapid traceability in a disease outbreak will not only limit how long farms are quarantined, keep more animals from getting sick, and help ranchers and farmers get back to selling their products more quickly—but will help keep our markets open,” said Dr. Michael Watson, APHIS administrator, in a press release.

Though animal disease traceability does not prevent disease, efficient technology, tools, and processes such as EID tags can reduce the number of animals and response time involved in a disease investigation. For example, EID tags can be used to collect data about premise location of an animal during specific points in time, which can be traced quickly in an animal disease event, said Jamie Jonker, chief science officer at the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

Many dairy farms have been using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for years, incorporating their use into electronic animal management systems, which record such things as animal health events, reproduction information, and milk production data, Jonker said.

While APHIS focuses on interstate movement of livestock, states and tribal nations remain responsible for the traceability of livestock within their jurisdictions. APHIS partners with state veterinary officials each year to test their traceability systems, according to the rule.

“NMFP has supported mandatory animal identification with RFID tags for dairy cattle for more than 20 years and appreciates the steps that USDA has taken over the years to enhance animal disease traceability,” Jonker said.

The USDA will continue to provide free tags to producers to jumpstart efforts to enable the fastest possible response to a foreign animal disease. Producers should check with their state veterinarian about the availability of these tags in their area.

A new rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks.

The AVMA policy “Livestock Identification and Animal Traceability” states: “The AVMA believes that permanent, unique identification of animals and premises is essential for tracing origin and destination of all livestock, and in particular food producing animals, in order to protect the nation’s livestock industry and public health, and to enable the trace back and trace forward of animals for the purpose of animal disease control and eradication. The AVMA recommends that a high priority be placed on the development of alternatives to hot-iron branding such as the use of electronic individual animal identification and the development of an electronic system to facilitate rapid trace back of livestock in the event of a highly contagious disease outbreak.”

A version of this story appears in the July 2024 print issue of JAVMA

More information about animal disease traceability is available on the AVMA website and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.

History of USDA traceability initiatives

Beginning in 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) officials started requiring identification and travel documents for livestock that cross state lines.

Livestock belonging to species covered by the regulations had to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other movement document.

In September 2018, APHIS officials set goals of using electronic ID tags on animals as part of an animal health tracking system and improving data sharing among state and federal governments, veterinarians, and industry.

USDA established four overarching goals in 2018 to increase traceability. They are as follows:

  • Advance the electronic sharing of data among federal and state animal health officials, veterinarians, and industry, including sharing basic traceability data with the federal repository on animal health events.
  • Use electronic identification tags for animals requiring individual identification to make the transmission of data more efficient.
  • Enhance the ability to track animals from birth to slaughter through a system that allows tracking data points to be connected.
  • Elevate the discussion with states and industry to work toward a system where animal health certificates are electronically transmitted from private veterinarians to state animal health officials.

Starting in 2020, APHIS provided ear tags with radio frequency identification to states and accredited veterinarians as a no-cost alternative to the metal clip tags.