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USDA Accepting Comments on Microchipping Standards

Make your voice heard on the need for universally reliable technology

Make your voice heard on the need for universally reliable technology

Microchipping technology that would simply and reliably identify lost pets has long been one of the great hopes of the animal care and control community. But for decades, patent issues and incompatibility between chips and scanners have limited the lifesaving potential of microchips. A chip made by one company may go unread by a scanner made by another, and a pet may not be identifiable if his family moves to another community or country. Even if a chip is detected, encryption may prevent the officer from being able to make a simple call to the pet owner when he finds a chipped animal.

Because of these ongoing problems, many leaders in the animal welfare and veterinary communities believe that, if microchipping is to fulfill its promise of easier and more reliable identification of lost pets, the producers of microchips and scanners must work together to ensure a standardized frequency for microchips. (To read more about the history and arguments of the microchip debate, read “Navigating the Microchip Maze,” previously published in Animal Sheltering magazine.)

For those stakeholders unable to attend a meeting, APHIS is accepting written comments until September 6, 2006. To submit written comments, send an original and three copies to Docket No. APHIS-2006-0012, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Be sure your comments are received by September 6, 2006.

To submit a comment online, visit www.regulations.gov and in the “Search Regulations and Federal Actions” box, select “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service” and click “submit.” In the Docket ID column, select APHIS 2006-0012.

The federal government has finally taken up the issue and is asking interested parties for their input. Last month, the Federal Register (Vol. 71, No. 47) announced a series of informational meetings to discuss the use of microchips to identify animals protected under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The meetings are being organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the branch of the government responsible for enforcement of the AWA. Meetings were held in Riverdale, MD, and Boston, MA, in March; in Baton Rouge, LA, in early April; and most recently in Springfield, MO, on April 18. The two remaining meetings are to be held on April 25 in Centennial, CO, at the South Denver Chamber of Commerce (6840 South University Blvd., Centennial, CO), and May 10 in San Diego, CA, at the Homewood Suites Hilton (11025 Vista Sorrento Pkwy., San Diego, CA). Read the full text of the Federal Register notice.

The AWA gives APHIS the authority over animals used for “exhibition, research, and the wholesale pet trade, as well as the transportation of these animals in commerce,” but it does not grant the agency authority “to regulate private pet ownership or the retail sale of pets and consequently [the agency] cannot mandate a single national standard for the microchip identification of pets” (Federal Register, Vol. 71, No. 47). The AWA currently requires identification (e.g., tags, tattoos, or collars) for animals it covers, and APHIS is now considering adding microchips, specifically International Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliant chips, as an additional identification option.

While owned pets and shelter animals are not directly covered by APHIS regulations, any standard implemented for AWA-protected animals will likely influence identification issues for all cats and dogs. For example, if the ISO standard is adopted for AWA-protected animals, the ISO chips and scanners could become more readily accessible for use in the U.S. The microchip and scanner market may change, and microchip database registries used for tracking pet owners may improve. Depending on the changes, shelters and veterinarians may feel an increased level of confidence in microchipping as an effective identification system for pets.

Formed in 2004, the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families (a group comprised of The Humane Society of the United States, American Humane Association, American Animal Hospital Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives, American Veterinary Medical Association) has requested “that chip and scanner manufacturers and marketers permit the use of a scanner that can read all microchips—and that such a scanner be made readily available to shelters, animal control officers and veterinarians throughout the country.”

For more information on the coalition, visit the website www.readallchips.com.

Please consider these points, based on a document prepared by the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families, as you draft comments for the USDA. The coalition is eager to see microchipping technology live up to its potential, and believes there are some basic changes needed in order to reach that point.

Problems with the current system:

• There is limited public awareness of microchips as an identification method for pets. Liberal  estimates suggest that less than 5% of American pets are microchipped.

• Even if read by a scanner, chips are useless on their own. To be effective, the information the chips contain must lead the person scanning them simply and directly to the pet owner. Therefore, it is critical to link the digital identification on the chip with the pet owner, which requires a database that can be easily accessed by the animal shelter or veterinarian holding the lost pet. At this point, there is no central, single database providing this information; instead, there is a confusing array of databases that are not directly accessible to shelters or veterinarians. If the pet owner has not registered with these databases, the person who has found the pet will have to track the microchip through other means—by using the manufacturer lot number or by working with the clinic or shelter where that particular microchip was implanted. If that veterinarian or shelter’s records on the owner aren’t up to date, the chip may still lead to a dead end. All of this points to a need for a single, central database where the owners of microchipped pets can register and update their contact information.

• Any successful pet recovery system must work at “street” level. The chips must be easy to implant and must be quickly readable by an officer using a scanner in the field.

• After twenty-five years of microchip sales and promotion, microchip identification has not made a significant improvement in the return of lost pets to owners. Return-to-owner rates at animal shelters have hovered around 15% for dogs and 2% for cats for decades. While microchip companies tout striking individual tales of chipped animals returned to their owners, they can provide little statistical evidence that microchipping has made a significant contribution to increasing those rates of return. In fact, it’s those communities that make the effort to ensure compliance with local licensing laws and rely on the low-tech solution of metal tags that have the best return-to-owner rates.

• Americans often travel with their pets, and when they do, they are confronted with the complication that a microchip they purchased and had implanted in their pet in one part of the country or world may not be readable by the technologies of other areas. Currently, American pets who travel abroad need to have a second microchip that meets international standards. Alternatively, pet owners must carry their own scanner capable of reading the chip in their pet in order to prove their pets’ identification to customs agents, who want to ensure that animals entering their countries have been vaccinated for rabies and other diseases. Likewise, people coming to the U.S. from other countries should have the security of knowing that if their pet becomes lost while they’re traveling, their pet’s chip will be readable by a shelter or veterinarian in the U.S.

• The coalition supports the adoption of standards that will meet the needs of the users in the U.S. and help integrate American microchipping technology with that being used by the rest of the world. ISO standards, which are already widely used overseas, have been adopted by some organizations within the U.S., and are supported by several coalition organizations, should be given strong consideration as standards are adopted for the U.S.

What an effective microchipping system would look like:

• Microchips would be widely promoted among pet owners as a safe and reliable method of providing permanent identification for their pets.

• There would be a robust, easily accessible database in place to link microchip identification numbers with owners. Shelter staff and veterinarians would not need to make multiple telephone calls to make this link.

• There would be an aggressive promotional system in place to have pet owners who microchip register with the database and keep their information up to date.

• All scanners would be able to identify and read all microchips.

 

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