Conflicting information on microchipping

A press release from the US Department of Agriculture endorses the use of microchips to identify pets.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has endorsed the use of microchips to identify American pets and has advocated educating the public about microchip technology as stated in its report to Congress, released late last week. The report, which was requested by Congress in 2005, is applauded by animal care providers tasked with reuniting lost and displaced pets with their families.

The American Microship Advisory for Animals is even more positive about the practice.

Dan Knox, D.V.M., Task Force Member of the American MicroChip Advisory Council for Animals (AMACA) declared: It is undisputed that microchips save pets lives. I expect that countless pets that are lost or displaced by hurricanes and other natural disasters will be saved over the years because the USDA supports and encourages the use of microchips.

But it turns out that there have been concerns about problems with microchipping that go back to the 1990s.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved implanting microchips in humans, the manufacturer said it would save lives, letting doctors scan the tiny transponders to access patients’ medical records almost instantly. The FDA found “reasonable assurance” the device was safe, and a sub-agency even called it one of 2005′s top “innovative technologies.”

But neither the company nor the regulators publicly mentioned this: A series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s, stated that chip implants had “induced” malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats.

“The transponders were the cause of the tumors,” said Keith Johnson, a retired toxicologic pathologist, explaining in a phone interview the findings of a 1996 study he led at the Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich.

Leading cancer specialists reviewed the research for The Associated Press and, while cautioning that animal test results do not necessarily apply to humans, said the findings troubled them. Some said they would not allow family members to receive implants, and all urged further research before the glass-encased transponders are widely implanted in people.

I do like this statement:

Dr. Cheryl London, a veterinarian oncologist at Ohio State University, noted: “It’s much easier to cause cancer in mice than it is in people. So it may be that what you’re seeing in mice represents an exaggerated phenomenon of what may occur in people.”

That argument would seem to be a bit weak, as I recall it was lab tests in mice that drove the attack against the tobacco industry for its cancer inducing effects.

As the article points out, there have been tens of thousands dogs microchipped to date and there has been no reported epidemic of cancer that could be related to the practice. But then again no one has really been looking.

Nonetheless, London saw a need for a 20-year study of chipped canines “to see if you have a biological effect.” Dr. Chand Khanna, a veterinary oncologist at the National Cancer Institute, also backed such a study, saying current evidence “does suggest some reason to be concerned about tumor formations.”

That would make sense. If such a study showed no link between implants and cancer it would give some measure of comfort to dog owners and would go a long way to relieving fears of microchipping in humans as well.

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