Microchip Proposed as Required Form of Equine ID

"The advancement of animal ID is currently one of the NIAA's greatest missions," began Amelita Facchiano, consultant for GlobalVetLink and chair of the National Institute of Animal Agriculture (NIAA) Equine ID Subcommittee at the NIAA annual conference held April 3-7 in St. Paul, Minn. After discussing different forms of equine identification currently available, the NIAA Equine ID Subcommittee concluded that microchips should be made the required form of equine identification to best provide for disease tracking for National Animal Identification System (NAIS) purposes.

Amy Mann, director of health and regulatory affairs for the American Horse Council and vice chair of the NIAA Equine Health Committee, said, "The NAIS intended to establish a standardized, alpha-numeric system for animal identification. The purpose of such a system is to permit ‘trace back' within 48 hours of a confirmed diagnosis of an animal disease."

It is a misconception that there are no equine diseases of significance that require tracking, said Mann. Occurrences of vesicular stomatitis (VS) in the western United States in 2004 might have been controlled better if there had been a tracking system in place. More recently, several problems with neurologic equine herpesvirus type-1 could have been contained more thoroughly. Both situations prove the need to track animal movement to better prevent the spread of sometimes deadly infectious diseases.

Mann said an equine identification system would involve an identification number for each premises involved, a number for each horse that is part of the system, and a location, time, and date stamp of where horses are so they could be traced in the event of a major disease outbreak.

Microchipping
Implanting horses with a microchip using radio frequency identification technology (RFID) was said to be the best way to track disease, and it is already being used in the livestock production industry under NAIS specifications.

Monica Emmenegger, director of The Crystal Import Corporation in Birmingham, Ala., and Swiss delegate to the International Standards Organization (ISO) committee, thoroughly explained RFID and the necessity of using an ISO compliant chip.

"DATAMARS (an animal identification company based in Switzerland) established ISO standards for animal ID in 1996," began Emmenegger. These standards are referred to as ISO 11784 and 11785, "and guarantee the compatibility of products manufactured by all makers through uniformity of codification, which consists of a 15-numeric digit code, and uniformity in the way the transponders (microchip) and reading devices (scanners) work."

This means that any chip made by a manufacturer can be checked by any reading device if both products have been made according to ISO standards, alleviating incidences that a chip might not be recognized by an incompatible scanner.

"ISO standardizes global technology," said Emmenegger. "The credit card is ISO technology. The size, shape, and magnetic strip can be read anywhere in the world by any credit card machine."

Each transponder has a unique identification number that consists of a three-digit country code and a 12-digit manufacturer's code. "The International Committee for Animal Registration verifies that the animal numbers are not duplicated," said Emmenegger. "They demand strict adherence to the codes and oversee the manufacturers."

She said this provides a type of "check and balance" system to make sure manufacturers create a quality product, as well as attempt to prevent fake chips from entering the market.

Using ISO technology in equine identification began in Italy in 1987 using Trotters, said Emmenegger. Through the years, the technology has become increasingly popular as a way to identify horses, pets, and livestock, and it is now frequently used in the United Kingdom with the implementation of a horse passport program (www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=5502). Emmenegger also noted that every horse in the Netherlands has an ISO-standard microchip implanted.

As RFID and ISO technology become more common in horses, new technology with the chips will continue to emerge, said Emmenegger. Information about the animal will be able to be added to new generation chips, such as pedigree, health information, and genotyping, as well as temperature sensing tags and authentication tags to make sure the chip is authentic.

One veterinarian and member of the committee commented about using microchipping for disease tracking and said, "It's time to fish or cut bait. We're going to have a disease outbreak that will decimate herds, and we'll be standing there wondering why we didn't do this sooner. This is the way to make disease traceable."

Another practitioner said, "The VS outbreak was a wake-up call. If we wait to do this, we could devastate the horse industry."

Another participant stated, "To be in sync with the international committee, we'll need to use ISO technology."

"The horses in someone's backyard will be the first onboard to participate in the tracking system," speculated one veterinarian. "When there's a fire or disaster and the horses in someone's yard get dispersed, it will be easy for the owner to get their horses back. A lot of owners are ready for this, especially when it means their horses will be safer in the event of a disaster."

However, it was noted by a vet that before the equine community jumps on board, "We need to sort through misconceptions about microchipping first--the chip will not migrate, the vets will not make a profit off inserting chips in horses, and other forms of ID are still useful."

Billy Smith, executive director of information technology for the American Quarter Horse Association and NIAA committee member noted, "This establishes RFID technology as the first form of identification, but does not limit the use of other forms of identification, such as tattoos."

Confidentiality has been a deterrent in deciding on which form of equine identification to use. Bill Hawks, USDA Undersecretary, said the Bush Administration has sent a bill to Congress that would exempt the data collected for NAIS from the Freedom of Information Act, and he urged the industry to support the legislation.

Hawks also said participation in ID initiatives are voluntary at the moment, and mandatory participation would not be put in place until all confidentiality issues are resolved. However, the goal is to have animal ID program implementation by 2009.

The following is the NIAA resolution and position statement on equine identification that was developed at the NIAA annual meeting:

Background
The equine industry has historically used varied methods of identification for a variety of reasons; while adequate for their purposes, not all current classification methods provides a unique method of permanent identification of the horse. By establishing uniformly accepted methods of identification, like RFID technology, these conditions are met:

  • Internationally compatible;
  • Permits a 15-digit identification number;
  • Allows for compatibility with current equine registration conventions.

Resolution
The National Institute for Animal Agriculture has determined that the use of ISO/ANSI compatible RFID chips (11784/85, 134.2 KHz) should be the required form of equine identification to comply with the United States National Animal Identification System (NAIS) for the purpose of disease trace back.

Action Plan
This resolution should be forwarded to the NAIS Equine Species Working Group through the American Horse Council with a request for response within six months of the adoption of this resolution. Additionally, this resolution should be forwarded to the USDA NAIS Sub-Committee of Secretary's Advisory Committee on Foreign Animal and Poultry Disease.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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