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USDA APHIS Proceeds With RFID Deployment Timeline

The agency is launching pilots of the technology for cattle tracking, while offering to share the cost of RFID deployments with U.S. states as they transition from metal ear tags to RFID-enabled LF and UHF tags that can be read via handheld or fixed portal readers.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 02, 2019

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is moving forward on plans to deploy RFID tagging for cattle in the United States as the industry transitions from metal clips to RFID tags. The agency is embarking on several pilots of the technology, while some states are legislating parallel RFID rules or recommendations.

A cost-sharing program, in which the USDA will pay some of the expenses of the transition to RFID, is slated to begin this fall. That includes cooperative agreements with states to help fund the purchase of reading devices by livestock companies and accredited veterinarians. The program is part of an Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program intended to make it easier to identify livestock by tracing their history from birth to slaughter, and thereby prevent or address any disease spread.

Aaron Scott
As of December 31, 2019, the USDA will no longer offer free metal tags, though cattle farmers can still purchase such tags in some states for another year from approved tag vendors. By January of 2021, RFID tags must be used for each new animal. Two years later, in 2023, RFID ear tags will be required for every beef or dairy cow moving interstate. Both LF and UHF RFID tags will be acceptable, and the choice of frequency depends on the state in which a producer is located. Tags must also be part of a matched set, with visual identification as well.

After the transition to RFID tags takes place, veterinarians recording tag data may collect information using a wand or a mounted reader instead of restraining an animal in a head catch and then reading and recording tag numbers manually, according to Aaron Scott, the director of the National Animal Disease Traceability and Veterinary Accreditation Center for USDA APHIS. This results in less trauma to cattle, the USDA contends, while reducing costs and time for producers.

Most of the data collected is not being held by the USDA, and the agency's Animal Health Events Repository (AHER) mitigates privacy concerns by accepting minimal data elements associated with animal identification number and event records from state or private systems. Owner, location and production information from states and third-party participants are not included in the minimal data elements. AHER collects an event type, the date, the state and a point of contact for the database, where the actual information is held for when it is needed to identify diseased or exposed animals. This provides an electronic index to determine who has the traceability data.

An RFID-based cattle-tracking system was conceived in 2017, Scott says, when APHIS completed its assessment of the ADT regulation. At that time, APHIS's personnel who are dedicated to traceability met with state veterinarians and APHIS's Veterinary Services field officers to solve animal-traceability issues. The group's report was published for public comment and was followed by ten public forums across the country to obtain input from the livestock industry and veterinarians. The USDA held nine such listening sessions, while the Kansas Department of Agriculture held one session of its own.

After compiling all of the feedback, the agency identified several issues it needed to address in order to improve its ability to rapidly contain high-impact diseases among livestock. "The most frequently identified need was for better use of electronic ID and records," Scott reports. Following the sessions, both the U.S. Animal Health Association and the National Institute for Animal Agriculture recommended transitioning to RFID for the identification of livestock such as cattle, to have official identification in 2018, with the full transition date set at 2023.

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