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Beware Mandatory RFID in 2023

Commentary by Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA


Billings, MT. | First, a bit of history on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA's) efforts to force upon the U.S. cattle industry mandatory radio frequency identification (RFID) – the most expensive and potentially intrusive form of animal identification in use today.

In 2017, the USDA implemented a strategy to lay a foundation for mandating the exclusive use of RFID eartags whenever a cattle producer chooses to ship adult cattle across state lines. This strategy entailed the establishment and use of a private committee to develop a more detailed plan for an RFID mandate.

USDA documents reveal the supporters of the RFID mandate created a catchy marketing slogan to describe its long-range plan: “RFID by 2023,” they wrote. So there . . . your hard-earned tax dollars at work.

But two years into this plan, little progress had been made. This apparently frustrated the USDA so it took the bull by the horns and announced in early 2019 that it would mandate RFID by January 2023.

There was no lawful rulemaking, no referendum of producers, no change to existing law, just a bold and unlawful mandate made under the tyrannical perception that the USDA’s power is whatever the USDA says it is.

This is a classic example of government overreach with a tyrannical bent.

Well, somebody had to do something, so we did. We filed a lawsuit alleging the Secretary of Agriculture and his USDA agencies broke the law.

In lightspeed, meaning much faster than the government usually takes to change its course, the USDA folded and withdrew its mandate.

This, of course, removed the very purpose behind the filing of our lawsuit for we won the issue hands down – the RFID mandate was no more. So, the USDA asked the court to dismiss our lawsuit and the court agreed.

Then we said wait a minute, our lawsuit also alleged that the private committee the USDA convened to help it implement the RFID mandate was unlawful as well, so that part of our case was kept alive.

Meanwhile, we got the government memo stating the government never quits in its effort to force its will over the rights and liberties of independent cattle producers. That memo was a formal notice stating the government would still mandate RFID in 2023.

Well, we objected strenuously and ultimately the USDA withdrew that new mandate as well.

But the government never quits when it’s single-minded about implementing liberty infringing policy.

In March of 2022, the USDA sent a proposed rule to mandate RFID to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final approval. Meaning to get the go-ahead to start the formal rulemaking process that will lead to a change in the law. You see the USDA wants to change the law so it will have the authority to mandate RFID. It can only do this through rulemaking.

So that was 9 months ago, and the USDA was hoping to receive the go-ahead to issue its proposed rule in July of 2022 and set a deadline of September 2022 for receiving public comments on the proposed rule.

We and other organizations held a meeting with the OMB urging it not to give the USDA the go-ahead for its wrongheaded effort to mandate RFID.

Obviously, nothing happened last July or last September, meaning the USDA’s initial goal to propose its RFID rule in 2022 was thwarted. We don’t know for sure, but our meeting with OMB may have contributed to the delay.

But three days after Christmas, we received a chunk of coal in our stocking.

We received notice that the OMB had completed its review of the proposed RFID rule and the USDA now has the go-ahead to propose its rule with this caveat: The OMB said it completed its action consistent with change.

That may mean the OMB required changes to the USDA’s original proposal. But we can’t know for certain right now.

Here’s what is certain: We should all brace ourselves for a brand new proposal to mandate RFID eartags upon all U.S. cattle producers who wish to ship adult cattle across state lines.

And we must prepare to fight back to stop this mandate from ever being implemented.

Here’s what we should do right now: We should contact each of our members of Congress to urge them to swiftly enact legislation to effectively rein-in the USDA – to stop the USDA from mandating RFID.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your calls. If just one Senator or Representative believes the infringement by the USDA of the rights and liberties of independent cattle producers is intolerable, then we can use that congressional champion to build a congressional opposition coalition against the impending mandatory RFID proposed rule.

Thanks for your help and we’ll keep you informed.


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R-CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle industry and rural America.

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.

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