Iris scanning has been proposed for horse by a company called Global Animal Management (GAM) Inc. As bloodstock is a huge and lucrative business – feeding everything from the private obsessions of the super-rich through the horseracing industry to the dreams of teenage horse-enthusiasts – it is not surprising to see such investment in biometrics. Racehorses were, after all, the first living creatures to be regularly microchipped. Vets seem sceptical about the idea, but surely members of the medical profession would be more enthusiastic about non-invasive replacements for invasive identification techniques like RFID?
Ironically, support for the scepticism comes form GAM’s own website, where a very interesting short video shows just how comprehensive the surveillance of animals through RFID chips has become. RFID chips do not just identify, they carry whole life-cycle information on origins, movements, health and disease and legal compliances. And because of the chips this information is carried with the animal not simply associated with it via a distant database as the result of an occasional scan. The system creates what GAM calls ‘information-rich animals’, which presumably is what makes GAM – and it hopes, its customers – cash-rich too…
(thanks to Aaron Martin, whose reading now seems to include Horse and Hound magazine…)
It is not just human beings who are subjects of surveillance. Animals are increasingly under surveillance too, indeed there are techniques of surveillance and tracking used on animals that are designed to achieve levels of control that (for the most part) would not be tolerated for human beings. Animals are tagged, filmed, implanted, tracked, and even used and adapted for surveillance (see Amber Marks’s book, Headspace, for example) for all kinds of reasons from the economic to the environmental. However, this great story from a BBC kids’ news program demonstrates that some animals can ‘fight back’ in ways that are inventive and heartening.
Many farms now limit the food consumption of individual pigs through the use of electronic Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) collars and gates: once the pig has gone through the gate, the collar communicates with a computerised food distribution system which will provide the pig with what is deemed ‘enough’ for the pig. When the pig has eaten and left the feed stall, it cannot get back in for more because the system knows which collar has already been through the gate.
However, apparently pigs in several locations have independently learnt how to get round this surveillance system. Some pigs hate the collars so much that they rip them off. These pigs then don’t get to eat of course, but other pigs have learnt that if they pick up the collars they can go through the gate a second time – and they have even taught other pigs how to this…
Never mind ‘Big Brother’ and Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s another Orwell phrase (from Animal Farm) that comes to mind here: “Four legs good, two legs bad”…!
(Thanks to Aaron Martin for this)