Tracking & Tracing : Key Issues For Veterinary Practice

Tagging has proved its value in helping to track and trace both domestic and farm animals. Microchip tags, using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) are now widely used to provide pet owners with peace of mind and to help farmers provide the traceability of livestock needed to promote public confidence in food safety. Developments in RFID technology, legislation and wide scale public acceptance are combining to increase the importance of this technology to veterinary practices. Even so, the use of RFID for animal tracking and tracing is not without its challenges. Differences in standards between the EU and the USA can create problems for animal movement between Europe and North America. And, recently, concerns were expressed about whether RFID chips could cause certain types of cancer in animals. This short guide from CoreRFID, specialists in tracking and tracing technology for veterinary practices, outlines the current state of the art and the issues surrounding the use of RFID for animals.

Farm Animals & Pony Tagging
DEFRA publishes a wide range of details on the legislation concerning the tagging of livestock to ensure the identification and traceability of animals. Until now, none of these tagging systems has required microchip identification of livestock. The Horse Passport scheme and cattle tagging schemes both recognise the use of microchips as secondary tagging identification and some horse breed societies require the use of microchips in conjunction with a silhouette for Horse Passports for their breed. However, from 1st July 2009 all foals born in the EU or imported will have to be tagged. Under Commission Regulation (EC) No 504/2008 all equidae will have to be tagged with a microchip complying with standard ISO 11784 and able to be read by an ISO 11785 compatible reading device. Race horse breeders have used equine chip tagging with success since 1999.

DEFRA has also announced that all sheep will need to be tagged from 31/12/2009 to comply with EC regulation 21/2004.

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Pet Tagging
The Kennel Club, operators of the PetLog database, claim that over 3.5 million pet owners have chipped their pet. When registered with the PetLog database owners and animals can be re-united in the event of an animal being lost or stolen. The pattern of animal theft across the country is mixed with increases reported in urban areas but little change seen in other places. However, recent changes in legislation that mean that since April this year the police are no longer required to take in lost dogs. This has made the practice of pet chipping, especially for dogs, more important than ever. The PetLog database grew by over half a million new registrations in 2007 and their 24 hour lost-and-found service handled one call for every forty animals on the database. Unfortunately, as highlighted by the Vets Get Scanning campaign (http://tinyurl.com/6ntvlu), best practice in respect of pet chipping and scanning is not always followed. As few as a third of vets routinely scan dogs on their first visit to validate whether or not the animal has a microchip, local authorities do not always scan found animals, especially when dead animals are found at the road side and incidents have been advised of vets injecting non-standard chips. Now, guidelines have been published by both the BSAVA and the RCVS (http://tinyurl.com/5te39g).

One important problem relating to RFID technology is that the standards used in Europe are different to those used in the USA and that not all chips conform to recognised international standards. Where animal chipping is intended to be used in conjunction with a pet passport, it is essential that only chips conforming to recognised standards are used. (DEFRA recommend chips conforming to ISO Standard 11784 or Annex A to ISO Standard 11785. An animal whose chip cannot be read (whether because the chip is faulty or because the reader cannot recognise it) when returning to the UK, for example, will need to be quarantined for 6 months, causing the owner both distress and expense.

The CoreRFID RT100 is a high performance, reliable, pet tag reader. The RT100 can hold details of up to 1000 tags.

How Safe are Animal Chips?
In late 2007 reports in the USA raised concerns about the use of injected RFID chips in humans and animals; highlighting cases in which tumours were reported to have arisen at the site of the implant in laboratory mice. However, work done by the BSAVA (and cited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in its guidance), indicates that while it can occur in domestic animals the risks are extremely low. Data collected over the last 10 years by the BSAVA shows that only 361 adverse reactions had been reported over 4 million animals, a rate of about 0.009%. Of these only 2 instances of a tumour associated with a microchip implant was reported. The most common problems associated with the use of chips in animals (over 54% of the adverse reactions reported to the BSAVA) relates to the problem of migration, where a chip implanted at one point moves within the body of the animal concerned. Some work has been done indicating that polymer coatings for RFID chip encapsulations may limit the problem. The risks of migration can also be reduced by improved injection technique. Data collated by the BSAVA shows the risks of tumours is minimal.

About CoreRFID
CoreRFID products for veterinary practices are available through the RFID On-Line Shop (www.rfidshop.com/vet_store) or contact CoreRFID through www.corerfid.com, telephone +44 (0) 845 071 0985, or email info@corerfid.com.

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