Putting microchips in racehorses for identification purposes will remain secondary to standard identification procedures such as tattooing and DNA testing, according to a panel of industry experts Tuesday afternoon at The Symposium on Racing and Gaming being held this week near Tucson, Ariz.
The Jockey Club will not mandate the use of microchips as a requirement of the registration of foals in the near future, however, it will adapt its database to include microchip identification numbers, said Matt Iuliano, Jockey Club Registry vice president.
"Although we couldn't identify sufficient benefits to justify the added cost to make microchiping a requirement of registration, we believe identification is fundamental to the Stud Book and as such we are modifying our systems to enable the reporting, storage, and retrieval of this information for Thoroughbreds," Iuliano told audience members.
Iuliano said beginning in 2006, horse owners who elect to have their horses implanted with a microchip can report the implantation and ID number through the Jockey Club's online interactive registration.
Dan Fick, co-chairman of the Equine Species Working Group, which has been operating under the United States Department of Agriculture and the American Horse Council to represent the horse industry in connection with the National Animal Identification System, said the use of microchips is not a "one-stop save all" identification method. He said its beauty comes when used as a cross-point with existing identification methods.
While implanting horses with microchips may seem like a relatively new idea in the States, it has been mandatory as part of horse identification since 1999 in Great Britain and Ireland.
According to Andrea Mercer, Weatherbys Stud Book Manager, as of Sept. 30 of this year, 124,000 horses had been implanted with microchips in Great Britain and Ireland in the last six years.
In Great Britain, the British Horse Racing Board puts up the cost of the microchips, which are then issued free to all veterinarians. Breeders pay the veterinarian's implantation fee.
Mercer said the microchip has been a successful tool for identification in Europe because implantation is a quick and easy procedure and it supports an industry need for integrity. Though mandatory, Mercer said the use of microchips is a secondary means of horse identification and Great Britain still relies on traditional methods, including identifying horses by their individual markings.
"We have no intentions to make microchiping a primary means of identification," Mercer said.
Fick reported on the current efforts of the USDA in animal tracking. The ultimate goal of the USDA is to create an effective, uniform national animal-tracking system that will help maintain the health of U.S. herds and flocks through The National Animal Identification System, Fick explained. When fully operational, it will allow animal tracing to be completed within 48 hours of a disease detection, which will aid in the containment of disease.
Fick said in 2006 the USDA plans to assign a seven-digit code to identify all premises -- locations where livestock exist -- and in 2007 attach a 15-character animal identification number (AIN) to all livestock. As of mid-October of this year, 133,000 premises have already been registered throughout all 50 states.
Fick said the use of microchips would help protect horse and human health by controlling outbreaks of diseases and also addressing the threat of bio-terrorism through means of livestock. He said microchips also help people identify lost, stolen or displaced horses, and said, in fact, they were helpful in recovering horses after hurricanes ravaged Louisiana this year.
Fick said it has been recommended to the USDA to allow the National Animal Identification database to be privatized or run by livestock groups, but there is still a question as to where this database will be housed. Preservation of existing horse identification systems was also recommended, Fick said.
Other uses for microchips in horses as it relates to horse racing was briefly touched on. For instance, as technology develops, microchips could be used to clock workouts and provide racing data as well as store medical records and records of transfer of ownership.