This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
Animal Welfare Act
by Laurella Desborough
The first petition to amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to include birds was published on January 1, 1999; the comment period was extended to May 28, 1999. I believe this proposed change to national regulations would affect many on-line aspects of exotic bird care and management. Several comments placed on bird chatroom lists indicate that bird owners and breeders do not understand the effects that would result if this regulatory change became law. Even individuals who state that they are lawyers and understand the AWA and the petition are reading the material as if it would apply the way the AWA laws apply to other animals. This is an incorrect interpretation of the petition as it applies to birds.
This proposed regulatory change, if it became law, is expected to have far reaching effects. As a result, four national organizations representing different avian-related communities have commented to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), representing bird owners and breeders; the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), representing the veterinary community; the American Aquarium and Zoological Association (AZA), representing zoos; and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), representing pet stores and suppliers.
As stated in the April PetAlert published by PIJAC: "The petition ... requests that a new rule-making procedure be initiated ... regulating birds, rats, and mice." Currently, these species are not regulated under the AWA because they are specifically excluded from the definition of "animal" under USDA regulations. If that exclusion was eliminated outright, research facilities, breeders, dealers and even retailers could become regulated, even if they presently do not have to be licensed.
For example, as Susan Clubb, DVM, commented regarding the AWA petition, "Retail pet stores handling birds would not have the exemption that they currently have for dog and cat sales. Parrots and many other avian species are exotic animals under current definitions, 2.1 (3)(I). This would require many hundreds if not thousands of additional licensees." She also states, "Very large numbers of pet owners would be considered breeders under the definition utilized for dogs and cats, i.e. ownership of more than three females or selling more than 25 animals for use as pets."
Changing the AWA definition of "animal" is the first step. The second step would be writing the regulations in order to implement the change; this is where the problems regarding birds would occur — in the regulations. The USDA states that extending AWA regulations to birds, rats and mice "would have serious consequences for the protection of other species," and they also state that, "we do not necessarily believe that these new expenses would translate into a higher standard of protection for the animals."
Since additional staffing and funding would be needed to regulate all commercial activity involving birds, rats and mice, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has listed four possible options they are considering in response to the petition:
Regulating all rats, mice and birds. (This option involves an increased number of inspections, with additional training for inspectors. Persons not presently regulated would have to cover the costs of coming under AWA regulation.
Regulate only rats, mice and birds in research facilities.
Regulate only rats and mice in research facilities.
Do not make any changes to the regulations.
For all those readers who have not yet responded to the request for comments, we urge you to do so. The following Internet website http://comments.aphis.usda.go
v has a form provided to make your comments. We urge you to participate in this important process.