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!