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Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

Lawsuit Against USDA Over Electronic Livestock Tags Continues

Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media
Cattle like these have plastic and metal ear tags. There is an effort by some to require them to have RFID tags.

The United States Department of Agriculture is backing away from a proposal to force livestock producers to use electronic ear tags to track their animals, but a group opposed to the idea is still pressing forward with a lawsuit to stop it.

In 2019 and again in 2020, the USDA made moves toward requiring radio frequency identification, or RFID tags, starting in 2023. Opposition from a variety of livestock producers led to them pulling back earlier this year.

But that delay isn’t good enough for the New Civil Liberties Alliance. The pro-bono law firm that bills itself as founded to “protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State” is continuing with its lawsuit against the USDA.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Wyoming, alleges the committees the USDA created to get information on RFID usage violated its rulemaking process. Specifically, the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) from 2013.

“They handpicked people they knew were in favor of RFID,” said Harriet Hageman, an attorney working on the suit. “We’re going to continue holding them to the law, which is they have to comply with the administrative procedure act.”

Hageman said following the proper rulemaking process will show the overwhelming opposition to electronic ear tags. Two of the top concerns are the cost and what will happen with the information collected from the RFID tags.

Electronic tags cost $2 to $5 a head, according to Oklahoma State University Extension, while the metal tags they would replace cost less than a quarter.

Supporters of RFID tags include the companies that make the technology, processing plants that want a faster way to track animals and some sale barns and auction houses that believe they can speed up the process of buying and selling livestock.

While the USDA has put the brakes on moving toward RFID tags, and it would be years before it takes effect even if it moves forward, the New Civil Liberties Alliance doesn’t want the USDA to benefit from the work done so far.

“They said they are going to go through a rulemaking procedure,” Hageman said. “What we’re trying to do stop them from doing is being able to use the work product from these two illegal committees in order to further that effort.”

The USDA does not comment on pending litigation.

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