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Ranch to Plate: WSGA focuses on understanding the role of traceability during annual summer convention

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cattle producers, industry stakeholders and government officials gathered in Riverton to catch up with old friends, share a few meals and discuss current industry issues during the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Summer Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show June 7-9. 

Themed “From the Ranch to the Plate: Understanding the Role of Traceability,” convention attendees spent the entire third day of the event discussing all things related to the hot button topic of traceability in the beef industry. 

USDA’s proposed rule amendment 

During the morning session on June 9, Dr. Alexander Turner, assistant director of the National Animal Disease Traceability and Veterinary Accreditation Center, gave a presentation on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) proposed rule to use electronic identification (EID) ear tags as official identification (OID) in cattle. 

Turner explained APHIS announced its proposal to amend animal disease traceability regulations in January, which currently requires any animal – with a few exceptions – crossing a state line to have visual OID and documentation.

The comment period for the proposal closed on April 19 following a 30 day extension, and USDA received 2,004 comments during this time. 

Under the proposed rule, official ear tags would have to be both visually and electronically readable for interstate movement of certain cattle and bison. 

“The proposed rule says visual-only ID will no longer be approved by APHIS as OID,” Turner said. “All animals currently wearing visual-only ID will be grandfathered in over the course of their lives. We didn’t want to immediately discount IDs that are already in ears, so we realize there will be a transition period.”

APHIS also proposed the revision and clarification of record requirements related to cattle and some of the terminology used in the rule.

Turner explained one revision which has been proposed is removing the term radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to broaden the scope of approved EID. 

“We didn’t want to specifically hitch our wagon to RFID,” he stated. “We wanted to be broad enough for all EID because there are other technologies being invented, and who knows what will come out over the next five years.” 

Another proposed revision to the rule is to clarify the definition of an approved tagging site – where the tag is applied and not where the tag is identified – as well as the definition of dairy cattle, which currently includes any animal born to an identified dairy breed dam.

“There is a lot of business right now in beef/dairy crosses. Many of those animals are considered beef animals under 18 months of age, and they don’t need OID under the current rule,” Turner explained. “The proposed change to the definition clarifies dairy cattle are any animal born on a dairy farm or to a dairy dam.” 

Readily available records

The last notable change included in the proposed rule is ensuring vet records are readily available in the instance of an emergency trace.

“We would prefer electronic records but we aren’t going to require them in the rule. We just want them to be sufficient, complete and accurate,” Turner said. “Currently, if records are incomplete or insufficient there is nothing in the current rule to say what they have to contain or that they need to be complete to get a trace done.” 

Therefore, he noted, the new rule will require records to be available within 48 hours upon request or those keeping the records will be penalized.

“In most cases, these kinds of traces happen much faster, but we wanted to set a time stamp to work from,” he said. 

Following concern from an audience member regarding the potential risk for producer privacy, Turner explained USDA uses a very specific set of random numbers in their database, which they do not share with anybody else. 

He also noted the federal government does have some movement records on file, but for the most part, they are safekept in individual states along with premise ID numbers. 

During a panel discussion later in the morning of June 9, the topic of database privacy came up again.

Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) President Steve True explained since Wyoming’s state veterinarian works under the livestock board, WSLB would be the holder of records at the state level. 

Additional concerns

Other overarching concerns, expressed several times throughout the convention, were supply and availability of EID tags and tag retention.

Turner noted because there have been huge supply chain issues with ear tags in the past, USDA has specifically, clearly and repeatedly approached manufacturers with the question of if they can handle the challenge. 

“Last year in New Orleans, we flat out asked them if they would be able to do it if we need this many cattle tags, if we need this many cattle tags plus pig tags and if every other manufacturer went out of business. They all told us, ‘Yes, no problem,’” he said.

“We are not going to be putting producers in a position where we force them to comply with a federal rule requiring a product that is not available,” True stated. 

Turner noted tag retention is also a valid concern, since there are a lot of variables affecting how long an ear tag will stay in an animal’s ear. 

“Companies are showing us their tags have a 99 percent retention rate for the criteria we have set forward in their studies,” he said. “When we have new companies approach us with brand new devices that have never been used before, we actually want to see it work well. It needs to not melt in Phoenix, and not break to pieces in Cutbank, Mont.” 

Industry support

Although there were still several concerns regarding USDA’s proposed rule, WSGA’s panel expressed their general support for beef traceability. 

“I think what we need to understand is they are not talking about requiring national OID for the sake of having national OID. They are talking about requiring a national OID for the sake of animal health traceability,” stated WSGA President David Kane. 

“My concern, the reason I want the protection, is because I am a selfish guy,” he continued. “I am worried about our industry and how disease will affect it. I see this rule as insurance protection for my ranch, the state of Wyoming and even the Western U.S.”

South Dakota Cattleman and NCBA President Todd Wilkinson reiterated the importance of being able to trace animals in the wake of a disease outbreak. 

“The projections we’ve heard say the U.S. would take a $228 billion hit if there were a foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak,” he said. “I don’t have an unlimited bank account so I won’t be standing after that. I just don’t think we can afford it.” 

WSGA held a business and board meeting following the presentations on the last day of the convention. During the meeting, the association amended and passed their traceability rule. 

According to WSGA Marketing and Communications Director Olivia Sanchez, the most significant change was to make traceability a voluntary program. 

“Whereas WSGA recognizes the critical role an appropriate traceability system can contribute to assuring the health of our cattle herd and marketability of our high-quality beef and whereas a national EID system, if properly developed with producer input, can best achieve these goals, therefore be it resolved, WSGA will support development of a voluntary EID system that meets the following criteria,” reads WSGA’s new policy. 

The criteria outlined by WSGA says the system must provide maximum protection against the disclosure of EID information to any outside parties and its use for any purpose other than disease traceability except as authorized by the owner of the livestock and is compatible with the use of the same RFID tags for cattle marketing purposes unrelated to animal health.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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