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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

Additionally, Undersecretary Greg Ibach last year announced "Four Overarching Goals" to better protect the livestock industry from devastating diseases. Each goal is dependent on advancing an electronic ID that would be collected and managed via RFID, Scott explains. These include sharing electronic data among federal and state animal health officials, veterinarians and industry professionals; using an electronic ID to make the transmission of data more efficient; tracking an animal's life from birth to slaughter via that electronic data; and working to create a system for sharing data between private veterinarians and state animal health officials.

Digital IDs have already proven beneficial when they have been used, Scott says. "Almost a hundred percent of animals with electronic IDs have been traceable," he states, "while those with no ID, or other types, are often not found or are only found after weeks to months of time." When an animal disease breaks out, Scott adds, state officials traditionally could only shuffle through paper health certificates to find the necessary records about an infected animal or others with which it might have been in contact.

In some cases, proper records cannot be located. One recent outbreak of tuberculosis in an animal with no ID led to traces across 13 states, Scott recalls, as well as the quarantining and testing of 99 herds of cattle. "This resulted in substantial costs, not only for regulatory officials and tax payers, but even more so for the cattlemen whose cattle may have been exposed." Tracing and testing animals without electronic records, in fact, can take more than a year to complete, whereas with electronic records and an official ID, state veterinarians can typically trace the affected animals within about two and half hours.

With the new program, the USDA will share the cost of RFID tags as the transition takes place. The agency offers guidelines for approved tags, including ear tags for cows, and will pay 50 cents per tag. It also provides advice for injectable transponders in horses, alpacas, llamas, sheep and goats.

"The most important thing for the industry to do is to begin using official RFID tags instead of the metal clips," Scott says. Any selected tags must be approved by the USDA, which requires testing to assure their quality standards and lifetime retention. The tags can then be used for official identification linked to information such as brucellosis vaccination, tuberculosis testing, interstate or international movement, and health papers.

Many states are currently working with the USDA or are issuing related recommendations to ensure the transition takes place smoothly for the cattle industry. Those efforts are under way by Kentucky's Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Department of Agriculture, for instance. Cattle that do not move off a farm, or that do not leave their state of birth, will be exempt from the RFID requirements.

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