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New official cattle ID tags will use radio frequency identification (RFID)

Timeline for changes to cattle ID tags

  • Current regulations, other than the type of tag, are not changing.
  • As of January 1, 2020 – Metal tags are no longer provided for free.
  • January 1, 2021 – Metal tags can no longer be applied to an animal.
  • January 1, 2023 – Only official radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are considered official identification.
  • To order “840” official RFID tags, a producer will need to have a national premise identification number (PIN).
  • For more information about the pilot projects or to get involved, please visit traceabilitypilot.com or cattletrace.org.

How will official identification tag changes affect you?

The conversion from metal tags to electronic identification (ID) tags is fast approaching, with official metal tags no longer provided for free starting January 1, 2020. Metal tags for animals will no longer be approved starting January 1, 2021.

The transition will be completed on January 1, 2023, when “840” radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags become the only acceptable form of official identification.

Starting January 1, 2023, all animals with metal tags will need to be retagged with an official RFID tag to be considered officially identified. The initial round of tags in 2023 will likely be subsidized. 

Producers should plan to pay 100 percent of the cost of tags after the first year.

Why official identification is changing

The transition from official metal tags to “840” RFID tags is the first step to enhance animal disease traceability (ADT) for the cattle industry.

The identification of a suspected Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) case in 2003 highlighted the need for enhanced ADT. During the BSE investigation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed to identify over half of the animals imported with the suspected case. As a result, the cattle industry and the USDA have focused on forming a national identification system capable of rapidly tracing cattle infected with foreign animal diseases.

Why producers need to be involved

The amount of control and influence the cattle industry will have on the further development of animal disease traceability regulation is dependent on regaining trust after the failure of the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

The industry’s cooperative involvement in the transition to electronic identification and its participation in programs surrounding traceability is essential to maintain USDA, consumer, and export market trust.

Past efforts at a national identification and traceability system

To fully appreciate the task at hand, it’s important to understand what has been tried in the past. The first attempt at a national animal ID system — the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS)  — was implemented late in 2003 (post-BSE) and is the backbone of our current animal disease traceability system. This program increased the traceability of cattle by creating the animal identification number (AIN) and the premise identification number (PIN). The program determined that removal of official tags would be illegal. The program defined significant movement such as:

  • The private sale of an animal.
  • The sale of animals through an auction market.
  • The participation of animals in exhibitions.

Why changes to the current system are mandatory

Those who routinely use official animal ID tags may recognize that the NAIS is no longer our traceability program. The Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program has been the system we’ve used since 2011.

While the NAIS outlined the needs of a traceability program and provided the tools to accomplish the goals of the industry, the voluntary plan had poor producer involvement, which minimized its chances of success. The failure of voluntary involvement in the program, despite a focused campaign highlighting the benefits, created our present-day predicament of mandatory regulations.

Producer-led traceability pilot programs

Currently, there are two major traceability pilot programs being built and tested by private industry, Traceability Pilot and CattleTrace. Both voluntary pilot programs are industry-driven rather than government-run, with an emphasis on confidentiality for the participants. The success of both of these programs is dependent on participation from the beef industry. Their success, or failure, will dictate future regulations for the cattle industry.

Traceability Pilot program

The Traceability Pilot program is a collaborative effort between the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, and the Kentucky Beef Network. The program focuses on opportunities for value-added premiums between the business-to-business partnerships in the industry. RFID tagged animals with correlating animal health and nutrition information receive a $5 per head incentive from participating feedyards.

  • By capturing animal movement data along the supply chain, the Traceability Pilot is gathering additional data points beyond the current system and hopes to pair this data capture with added value to the producer.
  • Electronic identification should allow for more accessible sharing of data within all points of the production chain.
  • The ease of data sharing could mean the ability to provide performance data from the feedlot back to the cow/calf and stocker level and data from the packer back to all segments.

CattleTrace program

CattleTrace is a pilot program based in Kansas and started as a partnership between Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Livestock Association, and the Livestock Marketing Association. Since starting the pilot project, CattleTrace has expanded to include several other states, private partners, processing partners, auction markets, and industry representatives.

  • The CattleTrace program uses ultra-high-frequency (UHF) technology
  • Cattle with a UHF tag have their ID number, the location, and the time recorded whenever they are in the range of a reader.
  • The readers are located in various auction markets, feedyards, and processing facilities around the country.
  • The entire system is passive, meaning all data is recorded and uploaded automatically, only requiring the presence of a UHF tag on the animal to work.

RFID tags and the future

RFID tags are going to be an integral part of the foreseeable future in the cattle industry. Many operations have already adopted the technology to improve records and workflow.

While a change in management is hard, being active in developing processes for the future of our industry is vital to ensure animal disease traceability programs not only provide business security, but opportunities to add value and improve our product by responding to production and quality needs.

RFIDs have many uses that can add value to a cattle operation. I encourage producers to embrace the change, ask questions, and discuss which programs will most benefit our industry moving forward.

Joe Armstrong, DVM, Extension cattle educator

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