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Ranchers sue over new livestock tracking regulations

CASPER, WYO. (AP) — Wyoming ranchers have sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over new livestock tracking regulations.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that ranchers filed the Oct. 10 lawsuit claiming an April guidance document from the agency puts unnecessary and burdensome regulations on independent cattle producers statewide. Plaintiffs include several prominent ranchers in Wyoming as well as the lobbyist group Ranchers Cattleman Action Legal Fund (R-CALF.) They contend the regulations were improperly rolled out and are unfairly slanted against independent cattlemen in states like Wyoming.

The department directive says ranchers moving their livestock across state lines would be required to implant their animals with an electric tracking chip. The seemingly mandatory use of remote frequency identification tags – or RFIDs – on all cattle raised and produced on their land. The plaintiffs argue this would cost  significant sums of money that producers in other states would be exempt from.

Recognizing a need to standardize its methods for tracking livestock, the USDA in 2011 began a formal and public rulemaking process that, two years later, resulted in a list of official identification techniques producers would need to meet in order to engage in the market. Because different states have different ways of doing things, acceptable mediums were purposefully made to be flexible, and included everything from brands and tattoos to ear tags and RFIDs – which are more expensive to implement but, simultaneously, add value to the beef.

The 2013 rules that resulted were lauded by many in the livestock industry  as being written in a way that was intended to be cost-effective and flexible for producers.

But the rules, it turns out, weren’t final and several years later, the USDA is attempting to amend those regulations with a requirement for ranchers who engage in interstate commerce to use RFIDs or face significant consequences. In the lawsuit, attorneys for the ranchers argue that the USDA’s new rules did not follow the process that was followed when creating those 2013 rules – essentially, creating guidelines to punish ranchers for not following a set of rules that were never formally approved into law.

Department officials have said the tracking program would make it easier to understand where diseases and defects originate from. But some, like Bill Bullard with R-CALF, point to a United States’ beef supply chain that is already one of the world’s safest.  

Ranchers say the mandatory use of remote frequency identification tags come at a high cost. But it’s noteworth that since the passage of the 2013 rules, some ranchers have voluntarily decided to implement RFID tracking systems and reportedly earning premiums on those cattle once sold.  But Bullard says once the system is mandatory and everyone is doing it, those who are now participating for economic reasons will see premiums disappear because meatpackers won’t have to pay producers for incurring the cost of using the tracking system.

The Department of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment.


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