Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Traceability rule divides U.S. cattle producers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As the U.S. dodges the ever-present threat of foot and mouth disease (FMD), traceability conversations continue to dominate livestock policy.

“The damages of FMD on American soil would be incalculable,” says Ethan Lane, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) vice president of government affairs. “This is reality and something we need to be prepared for.”

Why now?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the middle of a rulemaking process, with a proposed rule to make electronic identification (EID) tags the official ID for breeding stock over 18 months of age moving interstate or about 11 percent of the national herd.

Additionally, a proposed policy was circulated prior to the recent 2024 Cattle Industry Convention, which, if passed, would have called for NCBA to support EID devices for interstate movement of all breeding cattle over 18 months of age, as well as rodeo and exhibition cattle by 2024, and for interstate movement of all cattle by 2026.

This has sparked discussion on both sides of the issue, particularly at the Cattle Industry Convention in Orlando, Fla. Here, NCBA affiliates from across the country gathered to voice their opinions on traceability, which animals should be identified and USDA’s proposed EID mandate.

Lane says EID adoption is necessary to protect the U.S. beef industry from a foreign animal disease outbreak. 

If FMD were to appear on U.S. soil, USDA would halt all cattle movement for 72 hours. To continue cattle movement through the supply chain, all segments of the industry would be required to demonstrate they haven’t been in contact with an infected animal.

“Without EID, our producers are at a disadvantage,” Lane says. “These are real problems we want to make sure we have solutions to so when and if the day comes, we have the ability to respond quickly and get the supply chain moving again.”

But not everyone agrees. 

An opposition letter from Rich Robertson, owner of Crawford Livestock Market and president of Nebraska Livestock Markets Association, circulated prior to NCBA’s EID discussions.

Robertson says requiring EID adoption in all cattle by 2026 is not in the best interest of cow/calf producers and called for readers to engage with their state cattlemen’s associations to actively combat the policy proposal.

“All cattle will have to be read upon arrival to any auction market and will probably be put through a chute, as the EID reader technology currently available isn’t sufficient to capture numbers without going through a chute one at a time,” Robertson explains. “Now there is extra shrink on our cattle and another opportunity for injury. Folks, this is just what is on the surface regarding this proposal.”

Robertson’s letter was posted on Facebook, where a commenter adds EID tags are “part of a communist agenda to control the food supply.”

Lane says NCBA’s policy has been misconstrued and emergency preparedness has been confused with government overreach.

“There are some people who are really scared of what EID could mean,” Lane says. “We have folks in parts of the media landscape who make their living scaring people.”

After much debate, NCBA affiliates from across the country voted in favor of policy which would support the adoption of EID for interstate movement of all cattle subject to the 2013 Animal Disease Traceability rule. 

This includes sexually-intact cattle over 18 months of age, rodeo and exhibition cattle and dairy cattle. The policy does not discuss younger animals.

“This is what grassroots looks like,” Lane says. “It’s the entire cattle industry, regardless of segment or part of the country, coming together to find common ground on issues.”

Chelsea Good, Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) vice president of government and industry affairs, says the traceability conversation is far from over. 

LMA represents local livestock auction markets. Due to the volume of cattle sold at auction for a wide variety of producers, auctions are often a point of identification for livestock.

“Folks definitely spoke out recently and shared their concerns about expanding the program to younger animals,” Good says.

Good also says the industry should instead work on improving USDA’s current traceability program.

“The overwhelming consensus amongst LMA members is we are not ready for any conversations about younger animals or feeder cattle ID,” Good says. “We’re trying to focus on getting those currently covered animals identified well and systems in place which allow this information to be shared and well utilized.”

Since 2013, USDA has required documentation for interstate movement of sexually-intact beef cattle 18 months of age and older and dairy cattle of any age.

“Questions remain about data security and confidentiality, whether or not tags are getting retired at slaughter, consistency of enforcement, etc., in the current program,” she says.

Who pays?

LMA and NCBA agree the expense of EID should not fall on the shoulders of cattle producers.

“EID is nine times as expensive as the current modes of identification, which have traditionally been provided for free to farmers and ranchers by USDA,” Good says. “USDA needs to fully fund the cost of electronic tags and cost of electronic reader infrastructure at livestock auctions.”

EID expense, she adds, goes far beyond the cost of the tag. Livestock auctions will incur additional labor expense and additional infrastructure expense, plus a potential risk of injury and shrink to animals.

“The bottom line is we want to see a proposal where producers aren’t bearing the cost,” Lane says. “Whether USDA proposes rules outside of our control or whether, as an industry, we look for ways to move the needle forward, we have some very real concerns to work through.”

Betty Haynes is the associate editor of Prairie Farmer. This article was originally published in Prairie Farmer on Feb. 27.

Back to top