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The Washington State Department of Agriculture is proposing a cost reduction for livestock mark inspections for “identified cattle” from $1.30 per animal to $0.80 per animal and is expected to hold a hearing on 24 May on the subject.

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the cost reduction will save livestock producers money and at the same time maintain the solvency of the livestock inspection program.

The saying in cattle country goes, “Trust your neighbors, but mark your cattle.”

The problem facing our state is the need to both identify livestock and record animal disease traceability information. Tags are a useful and necessary tool for animals that spend part of their lives away from the watchful eyes of their owners. RFID or EID tags are ear tags that provide a digital storage mechanism for animal disease traceability.

Washington The state is home to some 9,000 ranching families raising approximately 230,000 head of beef cattle. In addition to our robust beef industry, there are over 400 dairies in Washington State housing approximately 275,000 dairy cows. The care and husbandry of these animals varies depending on the cattle owner’s practices, but, in general, beef cattle are on pasture for part of the year while dairy cattle are handled daily.

The WSDA inspection cost reduction proposal only applies to “tagged” cattle, or cattle that have an RFID/EID tag and can be tagged. Leaving “unidentified” livestock, or livestock that does not have an RFID/EID tag or mark, must still pay a $4 per animal fee. The proposal notes that the aim is to wean ranchers off the need to have inspectors present for private livestock sales and incentivize them to use the ECTR system instead.

However, it still disproportionately punishes dairy and small livestock operations, which have no particular incentive to mark their cattle or use an RFID/EID tag, by not addressing the $4 per animal fee. for all unidentified cattle.

The Livestock Inspection Service should set a single flat rate for all cattle to better encourage the use of RFID/EID tags and the recording of private sales through the ECTR. A one-time fee per animal can help encourage the use of RFID/EID tags by livestock owners who have resisted the transition from a blank plastic tag to electronic tags.

Unlike many livestock-dense states and our direct neighbors, Washington has not figured out how to create an inspection system based on a flat fee per animal. Several other western states — Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, and Colorado — all charge a flat fee per animal with additional call-in service charges for any inspection performed at a ranch rather than a sales barn. Fixed fees charged vary from $0.55 per person (Colorado) to $1.19 per head (Idaho). Other costs such as sample assessments and animal disease traceability also add to these costs.

The adoption of RFID/EID tags is the next step in livestock identification practices. The US Department of Agriculture has reinvigorated its proposal to use tags mandatory for beef cattle, dairy cattle and bison for interstate travel. Electronic tags are already a standard requirement for livestock sold in Canada.

Adopting an electronic tag does not prevent ranchers in our state from tagging their cattle. Tagging should remain standard practice for cattle that are put on pasture as added insurance for proof of ownership in the event that tags fall off and need to be replaced.

A single animal rate that doesn’t appear to punish certain sectors of the industry while actively encouraging producers to adopt technology that will allow them to be better prepared for the future is just good policy. It’s a policy that guarantees our food security, the marketability of our state’s livestock, and provides all livestock producers with a real incentive to transition to a digital system of ownership and disease tracking of their herd.

Those interested in participating in the public hearing regarding the cost reduction proposal can find the information here.

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