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Cattle Industry to Weigh In on RFID in Washington State

The Washington State Department of Agriculture will schedule a period of public comment, after proposing in December that all cattle in the state must wear an LF RFID ear tag to help identify them in the event of disease outbreaks.
By Claire Swedberg

Some cattle ranchers have indicated that the RFID tagging program would be a debilitating expense; for that reason, Castro adds, they oppose the mandate. The Cattle Producers of Washington, for instance, posted objections on its website, which include the cost of the tags themselves and the labor requirements for cattle producers to apply or scan the tags.

"Washington producers would not only have to purchase the reading equipment and computer software to read the tags," the organization's website maintains, "but the man hours required to successfully read, record and transmit information are prohibitive." The association also believes that the requirement regarding RFID data collection might discourage producers from receiving the necessary vaccinations.

If the RFID program is mandated, the passive LF 125 kHZ tags would be available from multiple RFID technology vendors, as would handheld or panel (fixed) readers that could capture tag ID numbers and forward them to the state's database.

An accredited veterinarian would need to apply a tag to the ear of each cow or bull for the cattle producer when vaccinating for brucellosis or sampling for trichomoniasis. He or she would then send the tag's unique ID, along with certification of the animal's health records, to WSDA. Veterinarians would have handheld reader to accomplish this task. That should be an easier process for veterinarians, Jones says, than the handwritten or electronic input submission veterinarians currently use.

Collecting RFID data rather than ID numbers on metal tags should be easier for vets or other individuals managing the cattle, Jones says. That's because physically reading a metal ear tag can require the restraining of an animal's head in order to obtain a clear look at the tag's ID number. With RFID, she adds, "They can just wand the animal, and that's less stress on the animal." The veterinarian can then upload the data from his or her handheld reader to the state's database.

The tags will cost approximately $2 apiece, and WSDA is examining how it could help subsidize that cost for cattle producers. The agency is currently in the process of scheduling a public comment period, which may not happen until the end of this year's legislative session. Several other states have been looking into or implementing RFID tagging solutions as well. For instance, Michigan requires that RFID ear tags be applied to any animals originating within that state before they can be moved.

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