September 17, 2007

Microchips: Now With Special Surprise!

You may have chipped your dog or cat already. Perhaps you've heard that microchips have been approved for people now too.

Curious? Creeped out? Either way, you may want to take note: an Associated Press report takes a new look at animal microchipping studies that were done before approval was even granted. And guess what turned up? Malignant tumors. Oops!

Apparently this went unmentioned by the manufacturer or the regulators at the time. But Keith Johnson, who led a study at Dow in 1996 said the transponders were the cause of the tumors in mice and rats. (This is all via Todd Lewan at AP, who apparently did some actual investigative reporting--increasingly rare in these days of recycled corporate press releases).

There were apparently a number of studies done on mice and rats from 1996 to 2006. And when AP recently had leading cancer specialists review the research, they said the findings troubled them. They urged further research before the transponders were widely implanted in people.

So what is microchipping and why would someone do it to themselves when it's not even decorative like a nice nose-piercing or tattoo?

Well, storing medical information is one application. VeriChip Corporation markets an electronic capsule that transmits "a unique code"--which medical workers can then scan to access medical records stored online. The chips are only as big as "two grains of rice," and implantation is done by injection into the upper arm. About 2,000 of these RFID (radio frequency identification) chips have been implanted in people so far.

In theory, this actually sounds kinda handy for people with chronic dangerous medical conditions, especially the kind that land you in the hospital unconscious. (Though couldn't they just put "a unique code" on a Medic Alert bracelet or an attractive pendant or something not implanted inside living human tissue to access the same database? Just askin'.)

And to be fair, the VeriChip folks say they've used the transponders for more than 15 years and received no complaints about malignant tumors. Also, a veterinarian oncologist points out that despite all the dogs that have been chipped, veterinary pathologists haven't reported any outbreaks of related sarcomas.

But then what about the studies published in veterinary and toxicology journals in the last decade or so that found sarcomas in chipped mice and rats? Why did the FDA not mention these studies when they approved the technology? Did they even review the literature on microchip implants and animal cancer? Um, well, the FDA isn't saying.

(For those who have their blood pressure well under control, do take a look at that AP article. When you get to the part about Tommy Thompson, and where he ended up working, be prepared to take some nice deep breaths.)

It may well be that the risk of cancer from these things is extremely minimal. Mice and rats get cancer way more easily than large animals or humans. So for those of you worried about your pets, it's probably not worth panicking until more data is in--especially since there doesn't seem to be any signs that sarcomas are turning up in significant numbers. The benefits may far outweigh the risks. But wouldn't it have been nice to have been informed of the risks in the first place?

It's hard not to feel discouraged by the way government agencies charged with protecting us seem to be doing such a lousy job of it lately. Whether it's our environment, our health, our privacy, our finances, our civil rights, or any of number of things we hold dear, is anyone else worried that we may have hired foxes to guard our hen-houses?

Of course, this microchipping thing might not be one of these instances. It could just be a simple miscommunication. ("Yeah, we saw the studies and didn't think much of them but forgot to mention it or explain why and we didn't anticipate that anyone would actually give a crap." Or something).

But as example after example piles up, at least some of us are feeling eager to sweep out the foxes and bring in, well, some actual watchdogs. Loyal canines who are trustworthy and protective and have our best interests at heart. And we promise we won't even microchip 'em!


  1. Seriously, I think if I had some life long, major disease or something that would be very important if I went to the hospital, I'd be happy to have the chip.

    I also think if I was a parent and it would let me find a missing child, I'd be ok with this too.

    There are some downsides and some weird potential issues with lack of privacy, but it could be also be a great new tool for safety.

  2. Geez, Crabby! We allowed a microchip to be implanted in our dog (who isn't really a dog; she's a Princess in a Fur cCoat) - I hope we aren't going to regret that decision eventually. As far as putting one into my OWN arm? Not a chance. And my Conspiracy Paranoid spouse has a theory that before too long we'll all have chips in our foreheads so the gov't can track our movements with their black helicopters...
    Oh, and in reference to your brush with the crazed drivers in D.C. - we lost one of our locally famous athletes on Friday when she was struck and killed by a vehicle while out riding her bike. A terrible loss. Not only for the athletic community - she was a nurse, and a very nice person.

  3. Actually, I think the government agencies are looking out for us about as well as they ever did, and if you go back far enough, they're doing better.

    Not that there isn't room for improvement, though! Lots of room!

    I've rarely been an early adopter of any sort of technology. I'm no luddite-- I just like to make sure all the kinks are worked out first. And since my animals are indoor-only, not a chance I'd be spending my money on microchips.

    I can't see myself ever allowing someone to put a chip in my arm. I get woozy at the thought of vaccinations and blood-taking, so no way is anyone sticking chips in me! And don't even get me started on the potential for abuse of privacy.

  4. When I see this stuff in SciFi I'm okay with it. Makes perfect sense.
    But in real life, well, I have issues.
    There's something all very Mark of the Beast about it.(Must. Stop Reading. Revelations. Now.)
    I don't think I care to be tracked like this.
    I agree with Bunnygirl. The government is looking after us as well as it ever did . . .

  5. Medical technology advancements always amaze me. There's no doubt that there are people who have been given a new lease on life because of foreign parts imbedded inside of their bodies - stents, hip replacements, shunts, pacemakers.. etc. But I have a hard time accepting how invasive it would be to inject something into the body if it's not directly responsible for maintaining health.

    Not to mention if it travelled upward from the injection site. I wouldn't want to walk around for the rest of my life with a chip on my shoulder.

  6. Wait... the FDA did something crazy and without the research to back it up? Color me shocked ;)

    The FDA does not; I fear, have our best interests at heart. That said I deep down want a microchip for Cedar. I know that makes me crazy but part of me (part of every parent I think) is semi-obsessed with knowing where their kids are at every second. I can't help it. But I do really dislike numerous FDA decisions. They're always doing something lame.

  7. I agree with bunnygirl. (and I get copmletely woozy too, I'm a total wuss when it comes to blood)

    (And hilary, I swear! You are the queen of cheesy puns, lol!)

  8. i always joke about putting chips in our tech guys at work so we can find them more easily...

    but i would only want a chip in me if i could synch myself up to a computer, monitor things and print out pretty graphs.

    if it can't do that, i'm not buying it!

  9. Wow! Thanks for that post - I had no idea. I'm very glad I haven't sent my kitties in for chips yet - we've considered it.

  10. Oh, no! I micro-chipped one of my dogs (the one I blogged about). Jesus, I want to get it out, now. Thanks for this article. She's not even two years old, so hopefully it's not done too much damage. I would just hate it if I was responsible for her getting sick. She's my baby!

  11. Man, this makes me nervous! When my parents adopted my cat, they chipped her. Then I got her from them already chipped. She's probably about 8 years old and hasn't had any problems with it, but still...

  12. Both my dog and cat were chipped for free. A really good thing in my dog's case, as she is prone to sprinting out the door and far away when the chance presents itself. It's comforting to know that she could be easily returned to us if she managed to get too far away. In her case, the potential cancer risk is definitely outweighed by that.

  13. I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords!

    Seriously, though, while I'm all for a grim future full of cybernetic enhancement and skimpy outfits (think this as directed by Ridley Scott), maybe we should hold off on using this stuff until we know for certain it won't, you know, cause malignant tumors. It reminds me of a conversation with my brother the physicist:

    Me: So why don't we have medical nanomachines fixing everything yet? Why can't I connect to the internet with my mind?
    Matt: Well, we have the technology to make it work, but there's a downside.
    Me: What?
    Matt: You'd, uh, die.

    I would hope the FDA has our best interests at heart, considering they're blocking things like the male contraceptive already proven hugely effective with ten-year trials in India because it's "not guaranteed to be safe," but as with any government agency they've gotta be subject to at least some political malarkey.

  14. You've obviously had micro-chipping in the States for a few years and as there hasn't been a rash of tumours in pets I wouldn't get to worried about this latest news. What is worrying, is the fact that pet owners weren't told. I'm mean it's nice to have the information so that you feel as if you're making an informed choice.

    NZ has just made it a legal requirement to microchip dogs at the time of their first registration at three months. Being cheapskates, we registered our latest dog at two months of age so that we missed the legislation!

  15. Cranky,

    I was kind of hoping that in another few years someone would put a chip in me, otherwise I might go for my morning walk and never come back!


  16. I’ve heard of micro-chipping a GPS into our kids and pets so that we can find them if they were ever lost. Although tempting, I would struggle with the idea of it. It feels too brave new world.

  17. Karen considered microchipping Sadie and me. She decided against it because neither of us go anywhere.

    I was completely against this procedure, of course. It sounded to me like another opportunity for "the man" to track my every move.

    -- P

  18. Well rats, such great comments and I got all caught up and busy with things and didn't get a chance to respond individually! (Though I can't let Hilary's awesome pun nor Jim's hilarious dialog with his brother go unacknowledged. But everyone else had great contributions to the conversation too!

    Just want to reemphasize for who those who have chipped their pets that there is no indication that there is actually any cancer problem--as the article points out, these things have been in use for a long time and vets aren't reporting anything suspicious. This was just a few studies involving mice and rats who get cancer really easily. (However, if you've got pet mice or rats and are chipping 'em, maybe you might want to rethink that!) And if you're thinking of having one put in yourself or your kids for multiple decades, as opposed to the shorter lifespan of pets, it might be worth double-checking that there's no risk.)

    And it's interesting to realize that many of you aren't seeing any noticeable decline in the willingness/ability of government agencies to look out for us--perhaps it's just my pessimistic outlook. Or my tendency to hang out in Berkeley with earthy-crunchy hippie folks.

  19. Bag Lady!!! I'm so sorry about the friend who was killed! My Gosh, and we were all being snarky about crosswalks and such. I'm really so sorry. I hereby pledge to be nicer at crosswalks and intersections.

  20. Melissa, thanks so much for your sentiments - our whole community is really feeling the loss of this woman. She was a terrific person and a wonderful athlete, as well as a kind and caring nurse on the geriatric ward at the hospital. Only 35 years old. We are all in shock.

  21. Oh, I just micro chipped my little Angel a couple of months ago. Now I am a little worried. She just is a darter. She doesn't do it often but she sometimes runs out the door and then just keeps of going. She really doesn't understand cars either. I would hate to never get her back. I would also hate for her to get cancer. Oh!!!

  22. I read this a few days after adopting--and microchipping--our new pup Willow. I *freaked*. I know it doesn't seem like an outbreak but I'm rather protective of my new baby ;)

  23. Hi Melissa, Samantha, Bag Lady and Angel,

    Thanks so much for your great comments! (Got a bit behind on this one, sorry).


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