Horse industry asks for identification
Bowling Green, Ky.-Food animal identification to promote food safety and disease outbreak prevention has been endorsed for years - if only the same were true for the horse industry, its proponents argue.
Their concerns may soon be over, thanks to support from the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), an industry organization.
Formerly known as the Livestock Conservation Institute, NIAA sponsored three livestock identification conferences in the late '80s and '90s. It is now organizing its first joint National Food Animal and Equine Identification Symposiums, July 29 to Aug. 1 in Chicago.
In conjunction, the conference will feature manufacturers and service providers in the animal identification and information systems business.
Dr. Timothy Cordes, an equine practitioner for nearly 18 years who is now senior staff veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is chair of a planning committee for the equine identification symposium.
Post 9/11 interest?
Equine identification, according to Cordes, is not a result of 9/11, nor is the federal government driving it in any capacity. "We have no interest in regulating it," he says.
"This has been an issue for the better part of a decade. For a long time, the food animal industry has realized the need to identify animals back to the farm for all the obvious reasons, including food safety and disease outbreaks," says Cordes.
But the horse industry has lagged behind until now. Equine identification supporters have turned to NIAA for sponsorship of the symposium.
The overriding intent of the event is "to encourage the equine industry to embrace some kind of identification system," says Cordes.
This industry breeds diversity, literally, with an array of horse breeds and classes as performance or nonperformance animals.
"We're not fooling ourselves to think for a moment that we're going to get the entire horse industry to embrace a single system," he says. "Our intent is to encourage the horse industry to embrace an identification system, first and foremost, that would not endorse a specific modality.
"Nobody in the group (symposium) is selling smart card, microchips, retinal ID, DNA tattooing. What we are trying to accomplish is that whatever modality they select will virtually provide a unique, permanent number," he explains.
No two horses alike
If everything proceeds as planned, each horse would be implanted - most likely in the neck - with a unique, permanent alpha-numeric number that would be translated into a computer number.
The number can then be included on health certificates, Coggins form, passport, or other identification, explains Cordes.
Ultimately, that number would wind up in a database for each breed. Currently, groups such as the American Horse Council, the USDA, or even the AAEP, are not volunteering to run such a database, but the breed registries have expressed interest.
Different breeds, different needs
To convince the horse industry of the necessity of identification involves a bit of cleverness on the part of equine ID advocates to promote many perspectives in an attempt to appeal to all parties.
Promoting identification means acknowledging its importance to international trade, theft prevention, welfare, existing diseases, emerging diseases and cost benefit analysis, according to Cordes.
"If you take a rancher in western Texas, he might not think he has (to worry about) EIA, but he sure should be concerned about horse theft or Western Equine Encephalitis, for example. "It's a very diverse world for horse owners. We're hoping to be smart enough to look at this equine identification issue from many different perspectives."
The USDA-APHIS estimates it will be paperless by 2003 for numerous certificates. Thus far, none of those are equine-related, but Cordes says their time is near. The identification process, he says, will nudge the industry in the direction it is already heading.
Will the cost ultimately be passed onto the owner? "Yes it will," says Cordes. "Whether it's the state veterinarian or your equine practitioner (installing the identification system), I'm confident most or some of the cost will have to be defrayed through the owner."
Three major participants in the identification project are the American Horse Council, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
All equine practitioners are invited.
The symposium is funded by NIAA.
For more information, contact Dr. Timothy Cordes, USDA-APHIS at (301) 734-3279 or e-mail timothy.r.cordes @aphis.usda.gov.