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Computer chips - marking beasts

May 04, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

My mother-in-law, Kay, just got a new puppy. It's a rottweiler. It makes me nervous. Not because it's a rottweiler, but because it came preinstalled with a computer chip.

Now, I know what you're thinking: There he goes again, about to take some harmless, and even beneficial program and blow it entirely out of all meaningful proportion.

You would be correct.

But I don't care what you think, because I am deeply concerned about this trend toward computerizing animals, under the auspices of making them "easier to find." Um, hm. Easier to find - and program, I'd say. All of a sudden, Dave Barry's joke about dogs receiving their signals from a "dog satellite" takes on a frightening plausibility.

And it's not just pets, it's happening with farm animals, too, according to an eye-opening story in the April 23 Herald-Mail.


The U.S. National Animal Identification System, the paper says, will centrally assign each farm with a unique seven-character identification number and then each individual animal will receive a special 15-digit number and (keep in mind, the party of "small government" is currently in power) animals that are part of group will receive a 13-character number.

Whew. Better hope cows are good at math.

Every time a calf is born, I guess you have to call the government. "Hello, Department of Agriculture? This is farmer 853D36H, and I'd like to report that cow No. 936502562935957 has just had a calf, that would be by bull No. 046205673850936, out of group 4962950169462 and we'd like to name it No. 595395103497249. That's my Social Security number squared, so it's kind of special. What? Yes, I'll hold. That number's taken? Well what about No. 3759 ... Wait a sec. What's that Mildred? She had twins?"

Farmer won't need a veterinarian, he'll need a numerologist.

And it's not just cows. The program also applies to "farmers who have cattle, bison, llamas, alpacas, deer, elk, horses, goats, poultry, sheep and pigs." So, I guess if you're a monkey farmer, you're off the hook.

But not if you're an aquafarmer. Oh, no. You will have to register "certain species of fish, as well as mussels, scallops, oysters and crawfish."

Animals will be identified by tags, including computer microchips and radio transmitters that enable the government to track them by satellite. That's the job I want: Monitoring seafood activity.

Operator One: Sparrow to Mother Goose, Sparrow to Mother Goose, we have a situation here. Mussel No. 358935629456398 is making a break for it.

Operator Two: Roger that, activating tactical antimussel missile.

Operator One: Tracking mussel missile. Negative that, Mother Goose, mussel missile missed mussel. But it leveled Chincoteague.

Makes you wonder how much easier Noah's job would have been had he been armed with modern technology. The unicorns might be with us today if only they'd been afforded a computer chip. On the downside, I don't know how you go about computerizing an oyster.

It will just give those snooty waiters across the country one more thing to brag about on the menu. "Yes sir, an excellent choice, this oyster is from Breton Sound, Louisiana. It is salty with a sweet aftertaste, tender, but with a bite to the tooth - and it has 256 megs of RAM."

So why are we doing all this? Why are we going to the time, trouble and expense of a massive national animal inventory?

Terrorists, of course.

Program literature states that "The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks make it clear that an intentional introduction of an animal disease is a real risk."

Begging the government's pardon, but I for one don't see how this is very clear at all. Somebody's going to hijack a chicken and fly it into a KFC? Are terrorists breeding a fearsome new strain of suicide cows?

And I'll be honest, I just don't come in contact with an alpaca all that often. It's been a long time since I've pushed away from the dinner table and said, "Ummm, that was some gooood alpaca."

Terrorists slip us an alpaca mickey and they'll all grow old in terrorist nursing homes drinking their baba ghanoush through a straw and waiting for the first victim to die. And we might as well face reality, sooner or later some terrorist is going to figure out that he can inject an animal with the cooties even if it has a barcode stamped on its tuchas.

So, if I'm a cow, do I care? Well, yes, and I should think I'd be all for the government program. It sure beats branding.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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