AVMA to step up advocacy for national microchip standard

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Despite recommendations from the Executive Board, House Advisory Committee, and Reference Committee 6 for disapproval, the AVMA House of Delegates on July 16 passed a resolution directing the AVMA to take an active role in defining, recommending, endorsing, and implementing a national microchip standard for companion animals, birds, and equids in the United States.

According to Resolution 4, the AVMA is to use political, legal, and media campaigns to form a consensus among manufacturers to use the national standard. Moreover, the Association is to advocate for the industry-wide adoption of open technology microchipping systems "that benefit animals rather than individual companies."

Additionally, the AVMA is to identify corporate funding to support national distribution of dual- and backward-compatible global scanners as quickly as possible, build linkages among acceptable databases, and undertake a public education campaign about the benefits of permanent identification based on a national standard.

Meeting on July 20, the Executive Board charged the Council on Veterinary Service with studying the issues and developing recommendations, with input from the Legislative Advisory Committee, on ways of implementing Resolution 4. The board will review the council's recommendations during its November 2005 meeting at AVMA headquarters in Illinois.

A national campaign might be unnecessary, however. A section of an agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 2744) under consideration in Congress directs the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to develop regulations implementing the 134.2 kHz International Standards Organization system for pets. At press time in early August, it wasn't known whether the microchip portion would be passed along with the rest of the legislation.

More than two million cats and dogs in the United States are estimated to have microchip implants.

In the United States, pets are identified with chips that emit a 125 kHz frequency. Yet elsewhere in the world, including Canada, Europe, and Australia, the 134.2 kHz ISO chip is commonly used for pet identification.

The ISO microchip standard has been endorsed for use in the United States by the American National Standards Institute. The AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are on record as encouraging the U.S. animal microchip industry to adopt the ISO standard. The AVMA is part of the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families, which is working toward a national chip standard.

Nine state veterinary medical associations submitted Resolution 4, which states "a lack of standardization in RFID (microchips) for companion animals in the United States has decreased the ability of the public to regain a lost pet in spite of microchip identification.

"The manufacturers and distributors of microchips in the United States for companion animal identification have been unwilling to arrive at a consensus agreement to resolve the issue."

Prior to the vote, some delegates echoed the concerns of the Executive Board, HAC, and reference committee that the AVMA would open itself to liability issues if it were to follow the resolution's mandate.

Others, however, said passing Resolution 4 would send a powerful message to the public, manufacturers and distributors, and Congress, which would most likely have to pass a law mandating a national standard since previous efforts to do so voluntarily have failed.

Florida delegate Dr. Larry G. Dee explained that Resolution 4 does not endorse any standard, and the wording is deliberately broad so as to allow the Executive Board latitude in its implementation. The aim of the resolution, he added, is for the AVMA to step up its efforts in this area.

"This is a major (animal welfare) issue, and we need to take action on this," Dr. Dee said. Colorado delegate Dr. Theodore J. Cohn agreed. "All we're asking is for the AVMA to take a leadership role and become an advocate for animals and families."