Court satisfied that USDA's RFID mandate is completely withdrawn
BILLINGS, Mont. — Last week the Wyoming federal district court dismissed the lawsuit filed in October by R-CALF USA, and ranchers Tracy and Donna Hunt and Kenny and Roxy Fox, against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The court concluded that there was no longer any “case or controversy” as the agencies had officially and completely withdrawn their April mandate to require U.S. cattle ranchers to begin using radio frequency identification (RFID) eartags and register their premises as a condition for shipping adult cattle across state lines. The court based its decision on the fact that the agencies have “clearly” decided not to implement such RFID requirements as outlined in an April 2019 “Factsheet” that had been posted to their website
Harriet Hageman, senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs to protect the livestock industry from the government’s overreach and unlawful actions. Plaintiffs had alleged in their complaint that the government had no legal authority to prohibit their right to continue using metal eartags and other animal identification devices (such as brands, tattoos, and group identification numbers) authorized by the traceability regulations implemented in 2013. Plaintiffs had also challenged the agencies’ effort to force ranchers to register their premises with the federal government.
Within just weeks after the Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, the agencies removed the RFID mandate from their official website and subsequently asked the court to dismiss the case as a result of their “change in policy.” Hageman objected to their request for dismissal based on a lack of certainty that the agencies’ withdrawal represented an official governmental action and change in policy. Hageman sought an assurance from the agencies that the 2013 Final Rule remains in place, that livestock producers can use a variety of identification techniques, that no premises registration is required, and that the agencies will follow the law.
The court based its decision to dismiss the case on the agencies assurance that they do not recognize the April RFID mandate as official policy. The court also found that the agencies had “unambiguously stated that the requirements of the 2019 Factsheet will not be implemented.” The court relied upon the agencies’ commitment that any new proposal will afford ample opportunity for all stakeholders to comment and participate in the process. The court concluded that these assurances meant that the agencies would not reverse course or revert to the same process which resulted in the RFID mandate.
The court further concluded that the government’s corrective actions “completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violations” associated with the government’s issuance of the 2019 RFID mandate.
Hageman explained that “in our lawsuit we were seeking a declaration that the 2019 Factsheet was illegal and an injunction prohibiting it from being implemented. The agencies have essentially admitted the former — that the RFID-only mandate violated the law — and the court’s decision provided us with the certainty needed so that this does not happen again.” She added, “We are pleased with this win and the outcome of the case.”
“We are pleased the court has clarified the government’s actions and are now confident that the mandate to exclusively use RFID technology and associated premises registration is no longer an impending threat to independent cattle producers,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard adding, “We must continue our vigilance to ensure that the interests of cattle producers are not trampled in the future as USDA pursues a new course regarding animal disease traceability.”