Cattle Producers Call Nebraska Brand Rules Obsolete

LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) – Challenging a Nebraska law that requires all cattle to be branded, operators of cattle feedlots cast the practice as obsolete and costly in a federal complaint.

The Nebraska Beef Producers Committee, a nonprofit that filed the lawsuit at hand Tuesday in Lincoln, notes that the regulations hearken to a bygone era.

Back when the Nebraska Legislature formed a committee to investigate stolen cattle in 1941, livestock operations “were often located in large, open, rural settings with limited human oversight,” the 13-page complaint states.

Today, however, the Brand Act’s relevance is waning, and the cattle producers say their members deserve credit.

“Members of the NBPC have implemented multiple means of improving cattle security, reducing the risk of theft or loss, and identifying cattle beyond the branding process,” the complaint states.

In addition to branding and ear tags, ranchers say electronic identification devices or EIDS have been critical in reducing the risk of theft.

“In particular, EIDs and other identification methods have enabled a thorough inventory system with detailed records of each animal including origin, location on the facility, health issues, statistics, and other pertinent information,” the complaint states.

The NBPC notes that its members also use multiple layers of fencing to reduce the chance of a breach or stray, and that federal guidelines have made the state branding law redundant.

More focused on tracing and preventing disease than on theft, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its ear-tag regulations in 2013.

Cattle producers says the USDA program gives them more flexibility in identifying and tracking livestock while opening foreign markets that require electronic traceability of incoming animals.

Citing statistics on from the state committee’s own website, the cattle producers note that the branding system was responsible for recovering just 910 head of cattle in fiscal year 2016-17 — a 60 percent drop in number from only six years prior. Moreover, all the cattle recovered through the branding program since 2015 were strays, not stolen.

“Changes in technology and management of cattle production operations have reduced the local benefits derived from the Brand Act while continuing to impose a costly burden on interstate commerce,” the complaint states.

The NBPC says some of its members are paying up to $90,000 a year in fees. In addition to the $1 fee per head of cattle, plus additional surcharges, the group says the branding process can also cause “shrinkage” that hurts the value of their livestock.

“In some instances, cattle producers have been forced to wait three days for cattle to be inspected and approved for transport to a meat-processing facility,” the complaint states.

Shrinkage is the word given for the weight cattle lose while enduring these stressful delays.

Alleging violations of the dormant Commerce Clause and Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, the cattle producers want a permanent injunction.

The group is represented by Katherine Spohn of the Bruning Law Group.

William Bunce, executive director of the Nebraska Brand Committee and chief brand inspector, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

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