Use of Microchips for the
Identification of Horses
|Prepared by the Australian Harness Racing Council|
Microchips, each encoded with a unique number, are used extensively in Australia and overseas for the identification of a range of animal species including dogs, cats, zoo animals, cattle, sheep and goats. In Australia, there are about 1 million dog and cats identified with implanted microchips, and about 1.5 million cattle identified with ear tags or rumen boluses containing microchips as part of the National Livestock Identification Scheme.
The British Horse Racing Board, Irish Turf Club, Jockey Club and Weatherbys have agreed that all foals born in 1999 and thereafter in the United Kingdom and Ireland will need to be microchipped as a condition of entry into the general stud book and Weatherbys non thoroughbred register. Korea, Thailand and South Africa have, or are planning to, introduce mandatory microchip identification of their horses.
With the exception of a small number of horses registered by the Australian Endurance Riders Association, few horses in Australia to date have been identified with microchips. Interest in the use of microchips, however, is increasing. The Australian Stud Book is considering the introduction of microchipping for the identification of thoroughbred horses. An owner wishing to identify his standardbred horses using microchips, and to promote the use of microchipping to other horse owners, has recently approached the Australian Harness Racing Council for assistance and advice.
Given the continuous movement of horses within Australia, and between Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Asia and North America, it is important that an effort be made to establish a standardised approach to the use of microchips across all breeds throughout Australia.
Standardisation will greatly assist the veterinary profession, racing administrators, registrars of the various breed societies, animal welfare agencies, the managers of animal shelters and potentially the police when attempting to identify and locate stolen horses. Considerable difficulties will emerge if the various groups within the horse industry adopt different approaches on important issues such as the microchip technology used, injection sites and implantation and registration protocols.
The Australian Harness Racing Council has prepared this discussion paper to assist the various sectors of the horse industry focus on the key issues in relation to microchipping. The Council would welcome feedback on this discussion paper and its recommendations by no later than 6 November 2000, along with suggested mechanisms that will lead to the establishment of an industry-wide consensus on the important issues considered within the paper.
2. THE USE OF MICROCHIPS FOR HORSE IDENTIFICATION
Microchips, implanted subcutaneously or intramuscularly, have been used for the identification of animals since the 1970s. The microchips used are passive in that they have no battery and are activated by energy received from the reader.
Once a microchip is implanted into an animal it cannot be easily removed or interfered with. Microchips suitable for the identification of animals are typically encoded with a unique non-reprogrammable number that can be read using a suitable reader within a fraction of a second. Provided the microchip number is registered on an accessible database, it is possible to very quickly and accurately establish the identity of a horse carrying the microchip at a racetrack, stud farm, training stable, animal shelter or at an auction venue.
It is unlikely in the foreseeable future to be appropriate or feasible to use microchips to replace existing methods used for the identification of horses within Australia. Implanted microchips complement rather than replace other methods for identifying horses such as DNA typing, branding and through the recording of markings. Since the 1970s, standardbred horses in Australia have been freeze branded using the alpha angle branding system. The Australian Harness Racing Council has no plan to replace this established and very reliable method of identifying standardbred horses in Australia.
Microchips suitable for intramuscular implantation are slightly larger than a grain of rice (typically 12-13mm in length) and are enclosed in an inert glass capsule. A 12-gauge needle is typically used to implant the microchip. Microchips can be implanted into horses quickly and easily. Horses experience approximately the same discomfort as occurs during a routine intramuscular injection. Occasionally fractious horses may need to be lightly sedated before the microchip is implanted for their own protection and for the safety of those involved in the procedure.
Microchips that are suitably packaged for implantation currently retail for approximately $10-$15.
3. THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA
There is a range of different microchip technologies currently available in Australia and overseas. These technologies operate at different frequencies and/or have different code structures. Unless the correct reader or a ‘multi-reader’ (able to read a range of microchips) is used, the fact that an animal has been implanted will be missed.
The microchips using to date in Australia for animal identification include ISO full-duplex (FDX-B), ISO half duplex (HDX), and Destron 125 kHz, AVID 125 kHz and Trovan 128 kHz (these last three microchips form part of a group known collectively as FDX-A technology).
While multi-readers are available, the performance of such readers in relation to read distance and read speed is typically inferior to that of single technology readers.
In 1991, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) established a committee (known as WG3) to work on the task of developing standards for microchip technology used for the identification of animals. After several years of protracted negotiation between the various stakeholders and commercial interests, two standards were finalised and released in 1996. The first standard, ISO 11784, defines the code structure of compliant microchips and the second standard, ISO 11785, defines the communication arrangements between compliant microchips and readers.
Controversy about the appropriateness of these standards has continued in Australia and overseas since their release. In March 2000, the WG3 committee met in Germany, and after considering relevant information, dismissed criticism of the standards and confirmed their appropriateness.
WG3 is now working on standards for advanced microchips, which will be based on and complement ISO 11784 and 11785. These microchips will have additional security features, and potentially also have the capacity to monitor physiological parameters such as body temperature.
Two microchip types are covered by ISO 11784 and ISO 11785. These microchip types operate at the same frequency and have the same code structure but vary in the way they are activated and communicate with readers. These microchips are known as half duplex (HDX) or full duplex (FDX-B). Hand held readers that are able to read both microchip types simultaneously are readily available.
HDX microchips are larger than FDX-B microchips and are therefore more suited to subcutaneous implantation or incorporation into ear tags and rumen boluses for cattle, sheep and goats. HDX microchips implanted subcutaneously can be read using fixed readers at a distance of up to 1 metre. There is limited research available on the reliability of subcutaneously or intramuscularly implanted HDX microchips in horses.
FDX-B microchips that are suitable for intramuscular implantation in horses can typically be read using a suitable hand held reader at a distance of 5-20 cm. The ISO standards, however, do not stipulate minimum read distance parameters for microchips or readers.
In mid 1997, Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand formed a committee, known as IT28, assigned with the task of developing Australian and New Zealand standards for microchips used for the identification of animals. Microchip manufacturers and suppliers, the Australian Veterinary Association, local government authorities, RSPCA, companion animal associations, the Commonwealth Government, Australian Horse Industry Council and representatives of Australia’s livestock industries are represented on IT28.
IT28 was formed because a range of technology was being used in Australia at the time, particularly for the identification of cats and dogs. This situation was about to be compounded by the imminent introduction of ISO compliant microchips onto the Australian market. The livestock industry was also keen to progress with a national scheme for the identification of cattle and was keen to contribute to the development of national standards.
In early 1999, IT28 finalised two draft standards based on ISO 11784 and 11785. A ballot of IT28 members was then conducted, but unfortunately the vote failed narrowly to achieve the 80% support needed to enable Standards Australia to enact the two standards. IT28 has remained deadlocked in relation to the two standards and progress is unlikely in the short to medium term.
As a consequence, the horse industry has no option but to accept responsibility for developing guidelines for the use of microchip identification technology for horse identification in Australia.
5. PREFERRED MICROCHIPPING TECHNOLOGY
There is a clear international trend towards the use of ISO compliant microchips (either HDX or FDX-B) for the electronic identification of animals.
FDX-B technology has been adopted in the UK and elsewhere in Europe for the identification of horses, and is likely to become the technology adopted elsewhere in the world for the electronic identification of horses. The Australian Stud Book and Australian Equine Veterinary Association have recommended that FDX-B microchips be used in Australia.
FDX-B microchips must now be used for the identification of dogs and cats under the New South Wales Companion Animals Act. HDX microchips have been adopted by the Australian cattle industry for use in the National Livestock Identification Scheme.
Given that the horse is becoming increasingly an international commodity, benefits will arise if the various sectors of Australia’s horse industry also support the use of ISO compliant microchips.
A number of separate companies are now manufacturing ISO compliant FDX-B microchips for the rapidly expanding companion animal, horse and livestock identification markets in Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Many veterinary surgeons and animals shelters in Australia now have readers able to read FDX-B microchips. Those that don’t have the ability to read FDX-B microchips will need to purchase suitable readers because of the use of FDX-B microchips for the identification of dogs and cats in NSW, and the inevitable movement of microchipped pets with their owners from NSW to other States.
The Australian Endurance Riders Association has encouraged its members to identify horses using Trovan microchips (non-ISO technology). The number of horses in Australia currently carrying a Trovan implant is unknown but unlikely to be large.
If FDX-B microchips become established as the recommended technology for the electronic identification of horses in Australia, then the Australian Endurance Riders Association may need to develop transition arrangements to accommodate this decision.
6. CODE STRUCTURE
ISO 11784 allows microchips to be made with either a country code or International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) manufacturer’s code in positions 17-26 of the code structure. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has engaged ICAR to issue manufacturer’s codes to suppliers of ISO compliant microchips. All manufacturers of ISO compliant microchips have been issued with a manufacture’s code. ICAR allows microchips to be produced with a ‘999’ code, but these microchips are for experimental use only.
The country code or ICAR manufacturer’s code is a 3 digit number that, on most readers, is displayed prior to the microchip’s serial number. The standard reader display is the microchip’s 3 digit country or ICAR code followed by a space and the microchip’s 12 digit serial number.
To significantly reduce the risk that more than one microchip with a particular number will be distributed in Australia, IT28 proposed in its draft standard on code structure that the ICAR manufacturer’s code be used for all microchips distributed for animal identification in Australia.
The use of country codes within encoded microchip numbers is only an option in countries with a centralised national microchip register. No such register exists in Australia.
Microchips used in Australia for the identification of horses should therefore be encoded in bit positions 17-26 with the manufacturer’s ICAR code. Microchips encoded with Australia’s country code or with the experimental code ‘999’ should not be used for the identification of horses in Australia.
7. INJECTION SITE
The internationally recognised implantation site for microchips in horses is in the nuchal ligament in the middle third of the left (near side) neck, midway between the ears and the withers. The injection site is approximately 2.5 cm to 3.5 cm below the top of the neck.
The Australian Veterinary Association’s guidelines on microchipping in horses currently specify a different site, namely the anterior injection triangle of the left neck. The Australian Equine Veterinary Association, however, supports the use of the internationally recognised nuchal ligament implantation site.
Given the limited read distance of FDX-B microchips, there are many advantages associated with adopting the nuchal ligament implantation site in Australia.
8. MICROCHIP PERFORMANCE CHARACTERISTICS
ISO 11784 and ISO 11785 contain no performance specifications relating to read distance or read speed. IT28 considered this issue in the context of microchips used for the identification of cats and dogs.
The following are suggested performance criteria broadly based on IT28’s recommendations for microchips used for the identification of dogs and cats.
9. MICROCHIPPING PROCEDURE
To ensure that the microchipping of horses is performed appropriately, guidelines are needed in relation to the microchipping procedure.
The following guidelines are based broadly on the NSW Companion Animal Regulations 1999.
10. REGISTRATION OF MICROCHIPPED HORSES
Horses may in the future be identified with microchips for a range of reasons including;
Given that the reasons why horses might be implanted with microchips vary greatly, establishment of a single registry or a series of connected registries is unlikely to be feasible in the short to medium term. Such an outcome may, however, become desirable if microchipping becomes a commonly used method for identifying horses, or if reliable identification is needed for the control and eradication of a commercially important endemic or exotic disease.
Racing authorities and breed societies, however, should give consideration to requiring that owner’s notify them whenever a horse is implanted with a microchip. Relevant information regarding the microchip and the person responsible for implanting the horse should be recorded on the relevant database, and appear on the horse’s assessment certificate, passport, or equivalent documentation.
A number of commercial registry services operate in Australia principally for the registration of dogs and cats. Horse owners who are concerned about horse theft or would like to maximise the chances of their horse being returned if lost should be encouraged to consider registering their microchipped horses with one of these commercial registry services.
The Australian Veterinary Association endorses registry services, and accredits practices using microchips under its ‘AVA Accredited Microchip Centre’ scheme. This may be of interest to horse owners planning to microchip their horses to reduce the risk of theft and/or to maximise the chances of a microchipped horse being returned if lost or stolen.
As microchipping of horses increases, then the horse industry should consider liaising with AQIS and relevant State and Territory authorities about the possibility of requiring that horses be scanned prior to slaughter for human consumption or pet food. Such arrangements could play an important role in minimising horse theft and controlling endemic and exotic diseases.
In the future, racing authorities could consider introducing requirements that stables and stud farms register on industry databases the movement of microchipped horses from property to property to enable accurate records to be established of the location of horses for racing integrity and disease control purposes. Microchip technology allows this to occur quickly and easily using e-commerce rather than traditional resource intensive paper based systems. Similar arrangements are currently being implemented for cattle in Australia as part of the National Livestock Identification Scheme.
The Australian Harness Racing Council recommends that racing authorities and breed societies;
6) Endorse the following recommended implantation procedure for microchips used for the identification of horses in Australia;
7) Require that owners who implant their horses with microchips notify the relevant racing authority’s or breed society’s registrar so that information on the microchip used can be recorded against the horse’s details on the registry database and appear on the horse’s assessment certificate, passport or registration papers.