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Ranchers File Lawsuit Against USDA Over Cattle Tracking Methods


Ranchers and a ranching lobbying group are suingthe U.S. Department of Agriculture over new requirements for tracking cattle that crosses state lines.

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) along with individual ranchers are challenging the USDA over a 2019 guidance documentrequiring ranchers to use remote frequency identification tags (RFID) on cattle that will travel between states.

There aren't many USDA or federally inspected meat processing plants in Wyoming, so many ranchers rely on taking their cattle out of state to be processed.

Harriet Hageman, senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a non-profit group that is concerned with constitutional rights, represents R-CALF USA and the ranchers. She said her clients are arguing that the USDA did not go through proper procedure to institute the new policy.

"The whole rule making process is supposed to be a deliberative process. It's done under the Administrative Procedures Act to make sure the citizens of this country, this republic, are able to weigh in and participate in the process. So it takes time," she said.

Hageman said the USDA went through a public process in 2013 when it released rules that allowed ranchers to use a variety of methods to identify their interstate cattle. But in April, USDA released a factsheet that supersedes those rules.

RFID tags can be expensive for ranchers to implement for their cattle, but that's not the point of the lawsuit, Hageman said.

"USDA went from having a fairly broad and flexible and cost effective regulation that could be implemented by our livestock producers to the most costly and least flexible type of identification that is actually available," she said

Hageman said her clients want the recent rules to be declared unenforceable and an injunction to prevent the USDA from implementing a required RFID program.

According to the factsheet, the USDA has implemented a transition timeline for farmers to comply with the RFID system over the next couple of years. "Beginning January 1, 2023, animals that move interstate and fall into specific categories will need official, individual RFID ear tags," the document reads.

A spokesperson from USDA said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

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Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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