So many readers were alarmed by the very mention of the National Animal ID System (NAIS) in our February article about microchips that we decided they needed more facts. We went straight to the horse’s mouth, which, in this case, is Amy Mann. Mann is the director of Health and Regulatory Affairs for the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C. She is also the chair for the Equine Species Working Group (ESWG), which was formed by the horse industry to give recommendations to the USDA about horses and NAIS.
People on the ESWG include representatives from groups such as the American Saddlebred Association, the National Cutting Horse Association, the Palomino Horse Breeders of America, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. You can view the full list at http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/audiences/horses/equineworkgroup.shtml.
Mann acknowledges there is tremendous misunderstanding about the NAIS, which was originally formed to track livestock in the case of a disease outbreak or a bioterrorist attack. The ESWG, in turn, was formed so the horse industry wasn’t lumped in with cattle and pigs. There are about nine million horses in the United States, and a percentage of those move every weekend. So one horse can have a tremendous number of movements in a lifetime, which is different from food animals, that often only move from the farm on which they were born to slaughter.
Mann emphasizes that the ability to trace back animals is nothing new. It’s done every day. When officials find a case of vesticular stomatitis, for example, they do a traceback, trying to find where the horse has been and what horses he has had contact with.
Recently, because of an outbreak of equine herpes at two Maryland racetracks, New York and West Virginia were not accepting any horses at all from Maryland. Let’s say you were a Marylander trying to sell your draft horse in New York. Although you know your draft horse was nowhere near any racetrack, you would have been out of luck while the quarantine was in place, even if you lived hundreds of miles from where the disease was found. With an identification system, Mann says, you would be able to prove your horse had been nowhere near the tracks and take the horse into New York.
Here are Mann’s answers to some of the main questions:
1. Will I be forced to microchip my horse' When'
Right now, there is no legislation about microchipping horses. The NAIS is currently a voluntary program. Drafts of it recommend that every horse be chipped by 2009, but that date has been moved forward several times.
2. I am opposed to the NAIS. Who can I tell'
Your breed or sport organization probably has a representative on the case. To see a list of names, go to www.horsecouncil.org/equineid.htm. This will take you to the Equine Species Working Group page and will help you find whom you should contact. Also, see the USDA’s NAIS page at http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/index.shtml. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org to express your concerns.
3. My horse already has a microchip. Will I need to get a new one if the NAIS becomes law'
No. The legislation will grandfather in older 125 kH chips, even though it does look like the ISO (134 kH) chip may eventually become standard. Horses with older chips will have their chip number linked to a registration number with the same number of digits that the ISO chip has, so they will not have to be rechipped.
4. If the NAIS becomes law, will I have to tell the government every time I go trail riding off my farm'
No. People taking their horses across state borders might have to have their horses scanned when they reach their destination or something like that. But these are the concerns ESWG is discussing with the NAIS committee.