Electronic ID Debate

When you have a radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip implanted in your horse, chances are you feel secure in knowing that if he were lost or stolen, he would be easily identified and returned. However, incompatible microchip technologies could undermine that confidence.

A July 2004 issue of the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) reported an April 2004 shelter euthanasia of a dog that had an implanted RFID microchip, but its frequency wasn't detected by the scanner that shelter employees regularly used. This case suggests that all RFID vendors might not be following the International Organization of Standards (ISO) guidelines to which they committed in 1996.

Earlier this year, the American Horse Council formed the Equine Species Working Group task force made up of more than 30 breed registries, associations, veterinarians, and other industry representatives (see story below). This group serves the horse industry within the U.S. Animal ID Plan designed to trace back animals in less than 48 hours for disease control. The initial focus is on food animals. The horse is included as it falls under USDA oversight when moved between states and countries.

The Animal ID Plan calls for radio frequency identification (RFID) ISO standards 11784 and 11785 to serve as the foundation for production animal ID. Horse industry challenges of using those particular ISO standards include uniqueness of ID codes, lack of manufacturer responsibility (in establishing an industry standard), and transponder/reader performance issues.

It is estimated that more than 1.5 million horses world wide have been implanted with RFIDs since the 1980s--all with various vendor frequencies. This means there are a number of scanners in use in the field that are not all designed to pick up the same frequencies.

There are myriad ID codes associated with chips that have been implanted in horses, some of which could be duplicates. In the mid-1990s, a new, more technologically advanced standard (introduced by ISO Work Group 3) was established to prevent the duplication of ID codes, but use of this technology drives up the cost and the size of the chips.

There is tremendous potential for ISO 11784/85 transponders in production animals, since their industry is starting from scratch with implanted RFID. However, this might not be the right ISO standard for an equine database.

Questions abound regarding standardization of transponders and/or readers. Recommendations on RFID use for the U.S. horse industry will come over time from the equine working group as it endeavors to research and develop a system that will allow the industry the flexibility to use existing ID systems or adopt new ones.--J. Amelita Facchiano and Stephanie L. Church

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