The Cattle Producers of Washington are working to alert cattle producers in the state that the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is planning to force ranchers to use electronic eartags, despite their prohibitive costs and inefficiencies.
CPoW, a state cow-calf producers’ group, learned that WSDA plans to mandate use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) ear tags in the near future, forcing the regulation on ranchers via agency rules.
“We are concerned about this proposal for a number of reasons, but primarily because this kind of system will put family ranchers out of business in Washington State,” said CPoW President Scott Nielsen. “This unproven technology is not needed and will burden ranchers with its costs and inefficiencies.”
Washington State already has both a brand program and an Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system in place that cattle producers pay for via inspection fees and a 23 cents a head assessment for ADT. The ADT program, which aimed to improve disease traceability by making more transit paperwork electronic, is less than four years old and has not yet been fully implemented. CPoW argues that the state should not start mandating additional technologies when the current system is not proven.
“Beef cattle producers have been faithfully using the brand system and paying the ADT fee while other cattle owners have failed to participate in the system,” said Nielsen. “What needs to be addressed is the segment of cattle owners, primarily dairy owners, who are refusing to comply with the law.”
Nielsen points out that the state created a special database with taxpayer dollars, known as the ECTR system that used ear tag identification, for dairies that were resistant to using the brand. However, despite this special effort to accommodate dairies, only two dairymen in the state of WA have actually registered to use the system.
“Our agriculture department needs to focus on enforcing the law in the sectors that are in violation before it tries to pile new regulations on the part of the industry that is compliant,” said Nielsen.
In addition, CPoW has specific concerns about RFID technology including:
*The estimated cost per tag is a minimum of $2 per tag. Tag retention is problematic, especially in range cattle and the technology to read the tags, a hand wand, often must be 12-18 inches from the ear in order to be read. Additionally, metal corrals, weather and a lack of Wi-Fi/Internet connections can all impede the technology according to a recent USDA study.
*RFID tags are highly susceptible to fraud. Unlike a brand, which cannot be removed, an RFID tag can be easily removed and replaced, essentially scrubbing the background information of an animal and allowing changes of ownership to occur without an inspection.
*Software between RFID tag readers is oftentimes not compatible and reader technology is not reliable, often missing tag signals or confusing tag information. Loading and unloading animals for transit in order to try and get RFID technology to work adds stress to an animal, labor costs to the ranch and does not improve the capture of information.