Sophie Boyer de la Giroday

EU adoption of harmonized rules combined with developments in electronic tagging has made it easier for citizens and their pets to enjoy freedom of movement within the Union.

Similarly the identification and tracking of livestock are governed by a system of permanent identification of individual animals enabling reliable traceability from birth to death. While current rules maintain checks on management, supervision and traceability for animal and public health reasons, legislation continues to evolve alongside technology. In fact, to enhance food safety and better safeguard animal health in the EU, as from 2019 the bovine animals will need to be identified using two means of the identifications: conventional ear tag and an electronic identifier.

This said, when it comes to animals, whatever it is we think is right cannot as of yet be translated in a holistic framework of directives working in the interest of both nature and our dominant species alike. Even in today’s economy, animals remain what they represented to us historically: a prime resource that sustains and uplifts humanity to superior levels of wellbeing and wealth. We still feed on them and they can represent a financially important asset according to their pedigree and physical shape.

Animals contribute to our GDP, no matter how much we like them or how we treat them. Paradoxically, they can be a threat to our life or a vector of illness while still representing a valuable element in the ecosystem. We recognize that some of them can be our best companions, entitled to live together with us in our houses and sporadically even to inherit them. But in other cases, even though belonging to the same species of some of our pets, they are just a forgotten number in a countless herd of irrelevant individuals destined to be raised for the sole purpose of being transformed. With estimated standing populations of 1.42 cattle, 1.85 billion sheep and goats, 1 billion pigs and 19.5 billion chickens, the global livestock population counts for about as many individuals as today’s population of homo sapiens sapiens, with a 24% increase reported over the last 30 years.

From a technology standpoint, over the last decades animal identification progressively went digital, at the speed of many other processes leveraging speed and automation offered by auto ID systems. This implies the use of various technologies spanning across almost the entire auto ID spectrum, with the exception perhaps of cards (unless we decide to accept eartags as the ergonomic replacement of this preferred form factor for those having no opposable thumb). Animal ID systems perform similar track and trace functions, whatever biometrics, contactless or barcode-based technology is used, and whatever animal is observed. Standards have been developed and legislation has been issued to mandate their implementation systematically across entire segments of the animal population in many countries.

As far as companion animals are concerned, pets are progressively recognized as members of society and identified to monitor issuance of the appropriate healthcare services and secure reconnection to owners considered in charge of their wellbeing as family members. All this happens while huge segments of the world’s human population still expect to be uplifted from being totally underprivileged and unknown to their governments. Hundreds of millions of people still live and die without leaving a trace and without having any means to assert their rights. This is being addressed and great strides are being made as we speak in changing society for the better. Universal societal inclusion was seen as utopic not long ago. In today’s digital society it is a vision. Tomorrow it well may be our reality.

Sophie Boyer de la Giroday