Livestock eartag case proves that I fight for Wyoming
I grew up on my family’s ranch near Fort Laramie, so I know a few things about what ranchers deal with every day and the obstacles they must overcome to remain in business. As a constitutional attorney for more than two decades, I also know that the federal government often serves as the greatest impediment to a ranch’s survival in Wyoming and elsewhere.
During the course of the last 100-plus years ranchers have developed a variety of methods to identify and trace their livestock, including brands, eartags, backtags and tattoos. These techniques are efficient, time-tested, and cost-effective ways of keeping track of the herd.
The bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Agriculture seem to think that they know better, and in an effort to circumvent existing regulations and in violation of our ranchers’ rights, they have been trying for several years to mandate the use of expensive radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags for cattle or bison when they are moved across state lines. This new mandate is not only highly suspect in terms of feasibility, but would cost our livestock producers well over $2 billion (as estimated by USDA), severely threatening their continued viability.
The RFID mandate also unfairly targets ranchers located in states without sufficient packing capacity, because they must move their livestock across state lines for processing. Ranchers in states with high capability for packing don’t have to move their cattle to other states and so wouldn’t incur the increased costs associated with RFID. This saga goes back years, to when the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund-United Stockgrowers of American (R-CALF USA) sued USDA in 2019 to block its unlawful eartag mandate. R-CALF USA succeeded in that case when USDA, knowing that it had violated the law (while hoping that it didn’t get caught), withdrew the RFID mandate and said, “never mind” (at least temporarily).
The risk of eventual enforcement remains, however, as USDA hasn’t given up, with a recent announcement that it is going to take yet another run at adopting and enforcing an RFID requirement against our livestock producers. The basis for such mandate relates to the work of two unlawful “advisory committees” put together by the USDA so that it could claim that “the industry” is behind these efforts. That “industry,” however, isn’t the livestock producers, but the big four meat packers and the eartag manufacturing companies themselves.
These two “industry-led” working groups — the Cattle Traceability Working Group and the Producers Traceability Council — were established and utilized by USDA in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act . The USDA maintains it did not establish the groups, or manage or direct them, but that is a thin defense, as the agency’s own administrative record shows just the opposite.
The groups’ memberships are biased against the interests of ranchers, and they most certainly were created by USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. USDA and APHIS actively lobbied for the formation of the working groups beginning in 2017, and sponsored the “Strategy Forum on Livestock Traceability,” where the agreement to create the groups was struck.
In mid-March, in my role as counsel with the non-profit New Civil Liberties Alliance, I argued before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that, even though USDA had ostensibly paused its RFID mandate in response to our lawsuit, it is still engaged in formulating these harmful policies. Because USDA has violated FACA, it should be prohibited from using any of the work-product of either the CTWG or PTC, and should be prohibited from relying on them in the future.
It’s fitting that as I was appearing in court, it was the beginning of National Sunshine Week, which is an observance of the principle of open government. Sadly, as I have found throughout my career as a constitutional attorney, the government is often opaque and working against the freedoms of its citizens.
The RFID ear tags case is just the latest battle in the ongoing war against the encroachment of the federal government. I’ve fought in court — and won — against the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the USDA (among other agencies), as unelected bureaucrats sought ever-increasing control over the everyday lives of our citizens. Our livestock, property rights, and water rights are vital to Wyoming’s continued prosperity and way of life, and they are what I have spent most of my career defending.
While I am counsel in the RFID case, I am also a candidate for Wyoming’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. When speaking to voters, I always argue that my record of standing up for the rights of Wyoming in federal court is one of my key qualifications for the office. And when I get to Congress, I will ask to be placed on the Natural Resources Committee, where Wyoming’s representative has historically served.
Our current member of Congress, Rep. Liz Cheney, does not have a seat on the Natural Resources Committee, choosing instead to spend her time on the Jan. 6 commission.
When I’m the next congresswoman from Wyoming, I will always advocate for the views and values of Wyoming, just like I am currently doing for ranchers in federal court
–Hageman is a Wyoming native, a constitutional attorney, a former Republican National Committeewoman from Wyoming, and a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Wyoming.
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