Micro Management

As Congress considers legislation that would establish the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), horse industry officials are seeking to drive home the message that microchips are  a means of identifying equines--not an avenue for the federal government to invade privacy.

During the April 4 American Horse Council (AHC) national issues forum in Washington, D.C., officials said there is industry concern about requiring microchips in horses.

"The chips do not hold GPS transmitters," said Billy Smith, PhD, executive director of information technology for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). "You have to be right on a horse to detect a chip…This is a tool with a very small amount of information. I think of it as an electronic barcode on your horse."

The AQHA is a member of the Equine Species Working Group, which will make recommendations to the USDA. The USDA will implement the NAIS. The group met April 2 in Washington, D.C., for an update on the program and to develop options for the USDA's consideration.

"It's a top-of-mind issue with Congress, but it's moving slower than predicted," said Dan Fick, executive director of The Jockey Club and chairman of the working group.

The NAIS is to be phased in slowly, with a goal of 2009 for mandatory participation (this deadline is for food animal livestock only). A recent change is that the USDA will farm out the database; only a few companies could provide the service due to stringent security requirements.

There are three key components of the NAIS: a premises ID number, an animal microchip ID number, and animal movement.

Although the NAIS is inevitable given efforts to combat bioterrorism, its implementation remains a question. But AHC President Jay Hickey said it's imperative to be proactive rather than risk having onerous regulations imposed on the horse industry. "We are a long way from a system becoming voluntary, much less mandatory," he said.

Jim Morehead, DVM, of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said the NAIS is needed in a world with "relatively sophisticated psychos" who could use diseases for terrorism. He said inviduals must realize the import of the effort and be more sensible about it. He cited the 2001 mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) outbreak in Kentucky as an example. It only took five days for panic to set in, even though it wasn't known that MRLS wasn't infectious.

"We were sending horses out of (Kentucky) like there was no tomorrow," he said. "A lot of the horses didn't even have (Coggins papers)...If it had been an infectious disease, we would have been in trouble."

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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