Tags to Replace Branding of Nation's Cattle

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A federal plan is in the works that could better identify cattle's home on the range.

The United States Department of Agriculture is in the final stages of crafting new rules that could end branding cows in favor of a better identification system that emphasizes numbered ear tags. Feds have argued for years that a national ID system could better track outbreaks of diseases like bovine brucellosis, tuberculosis or even mad cow. A previous effort to mandate ear tags died after a voluntary trial ended in 2009.

Under the new plan, each tag would require a unique numeric code, to be stored in a national database. But USDA officials are also expected to include an exception to the rule, which would allow some states to allow brands, but only as an unofficial identification. The USDA said it would initially provide metal ear tags at no cost. A high-end electronic ear tag, which would transmit a radio frequency, could cost $2-$4 apiece.

In particular, the rule would have a dramatic effect on the nation's dairy industry. There are approximately 8 million milk-producing cattle in the United States and 500,000 dairy cows in Idaho.

According to the Idaho Department of Agriculture, Idaho is the second-largest milk-producing state in the Western United States and ranks third in the nation. Idaho's dairy industry employs more than 22,730 workers. Allied industries employ an additional 13,470 workers.

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