RFID Ear Tags To Be Required USDA Identification for ADT by 2023

*Update:  In October, the USDA withdrew this plan, removing the Fact Sheet from its website.* 

In April, the USDA announced it will be making changes to the mandatory Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program concerning the type of ear tags that may be used in beef cattle, dairy cattle, and bison.  [View Factsheet here.]

Keep in mind that this blog post addresses only the federal regulations applicable to interstate transport of livestock.  State-specific rules apply to intrastate transport and many states may have import requirements for livestock from other states.  For more information on state-specific regulations, click here.


The ADT program began in 2013 and requires that for certain animals moving in interstate commerce, an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection (“health certificate”) and official identification must accompany the animal. The ADT program applies to sexually intact beef cattle and bison 18 months of age or older; all female dairy cattle of any age; all dairy males born after 3/11/13; and cattle or bison of any age used for rodeo, show, exhibition, and recreational events. (The program also applies to sheep, goats, horses, swine, and poultry, but those rules are not being modified at this time, so this blog post will focus only on cattle and bison.)  Exceptions apply for animals that are crossing state lines in order to go directly to an approved tagging site (such as a livestock auction), for animals moved directly to slaughter or through no more than one USDA approved livestock facility, and for commuter herds that travel between premises owned by the same person or entity in two different states.

Importantly, the USDA is not expanding the scope of the ADT program and these remain the only animals, at least for now, to which the mandatory rules are applicable.

Currently, producers can comply with the ADT rules by using dangle tags, electronic ear tags, or metal brite tags. The USDA provides the metal brite tags to producers for free.


The USDA has announced its plan to convert the industry from the tagging system currently used to requiring all producers to utilize RFID tags by 2023.  Remember, this still only applies to the category of animals described above (for beef cattle: sexually intact, over 18 months old, transported interstate).  The following deadlines apply to this requirement change:

  • December 31, 2019:  USDA will no longer provide the metal brite tags at no cost.  Approved vendors may still produce the tags for one more year for purchase by producers.
  • January 1, 2021:  USDA will no longer allow vendor production of official USDA metal brite tags.  Metal brite tags and other visual, non-RFID tags may no longer be applied to animals, although the metal brite tags will still be recognized for animals previously tagged.
  • January 1, 2023:  RFID tags will be the only recognized official USDA identification under ADT.

The USDA believes these changes will help animal health officials ability to quickly trace animals in the event of an outbreak.

One note here–brands and tattoos may still be accepted as official identification if both the shipping and receiving State or Tribe agree to accept the brand instead of RFID tags.

Questions Remain

There are a number of details still up in the air regarding these changes.  There has been some discussion that USDA may do some sort of cost-share program to assist producers with the costs of the mandatory RFID tags.  There will also be a need for technology like electronic readers at sale barns or other auctions, which USDA may provide assistance with.

For many cattle producer, this may be a big change and result in added expense as well.  It is important for producers to be aware of these changes and applicable deadlines.

Comments are closed.