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RFID battle not over yet, R-CALF USA wants more legal assurances

WASHINGTON, DC – In the continued battle over the mandated use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in livestock identification, the lead oranization that sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), say the agency’s removing the mandate from official ebsites and posting a statement indicating the RFID mandte is no longer representative of the agencies’ currenty policy, isn’t enough.

Three weeks after the lawsuit was filed by R-CALF USA and indiviudal rancher-plaintiffs in October 2019 – a suit that challenged USDA’s authority to mandate the use of RFID eartags – the agencies changed course, stepping back from implementing the mandate.

Some time later, R-CALF USDA presented a settlement proposal which sought to provide assurances for the U.S. cattle industry that the agencies would not repeat their unlawful actions. That settlement proposal also sought to ensure the agencies would not proceed with their stated goal of eliminating all other forms of official animal identification. The proposal also sought to stop the agencies from using materials and information provided by committees that were unlawfully formed to support the agencies’ single-minded approach to animal disease traceability.

Instead of responding to the settlement offer the agencies moved forward with filing a motion to dismiss, claiming the lawsuit was now mooted by the withdrawal of the RFID mandate.

Harriet Hageman, Senior Litigation Counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, informed the court this week that the agencies’ mere withdrawal of the unlawful mandate, along with their insistence that it did not violate U.S. law, is insufficient to resolve the continued threat the agencies pose to the statutory and regulatory rights and privileges of independent U.S. cattle producers. Hageman also informed the court that the agencies’ use of the “tainted” committees is cause for concern and that  livestock producers should be allowed to conduct discovery to find out what happened.

According to R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, the agencies’ position is that because they have temporarily pulled back on pursuing an unlawful RFID mandate that the court should now “trust them.” They claim that such trust is warranted because they promise to seek “industry input” when they pursue this same policy in the future. But, he said the agencies’ violations run far deeper than their unlawful attempt to burden independent cattle producers with a costly RFID mandate, and the implications for the cattle industry are serious.

“It’s important for producers to know that had we not stopped this mandate then cattle producers who are now voluntarily using RFID technology in return for market premiums would see those premiums evaporate as soon as the entire industry was forced by the government to give up all other forms of animal identification.”

Hageman notes that this case is important from the standpoint of preventing federal agencies from circumventing the Administrative Procedure Act and violating the law to try to impose costly and likely unworkable requirements on the livestock industry.

“What we have so far learned in this case is that when independent cattle producers organize and step to the plate to defend and protect their rights, they can be successful,” said Bullard.

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