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This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
copyright: Laurella Desborough http://eclectusbreeder.com  all rights reserved by the author.

Legislative Alert: Proposed Amendment To Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
(March, 1999)
by Laurella Desborough

A petition has been put forward to the U. S. Department of Agriculture that has the potential to affect almost every bird breeder, as well as bird shows and exhibits, bird marts, bird dealers and bird transportation. The petition has been put forward by a coalition of anti-vivisectionists and requests that the Department change the definition of "animal" in the Animal Welfare Act regulations. The amendment would remove the exclusion of rats and mice bred for use in research and remove the exclusion of birds. A similar petition was made in 1982 that failed. This one is well-crafted and could be approved.

Aviculture Concerns
Of course, aviculturists should be concerned about placing birds under the Animal Welfare Act regulations. According to government officials, the potential exists that every facility will be required to have unannounced annual inspections by government appointed veterinarians. Inspected facilities must meet the standards set by the regulations, which have not been drafted yet. The Department of Agriculture is soliciting public comments on the petition. The Department of Agriculture does not support this petition and believes that extending AWA coverage to birds, rats and mice would have a substantial financial impact on those affected, and that the vast majority of laboratory birds, rats and mice already are afforded protections. Furthermore, the Department of Agriculture has stated that they do not have the resources to conduct these additional inspections and will have to reduce inspections in other areas unless funding is provided by Congress to cover the increased workload.

Birds Under Regulation
If the petition to amend the AWA and include birds is accepted, USDA APHIS officials have stated that it is possible the regulations would cover all bird breeding facilities except very small hobby breeders with few sales. The regulations would potentially cover birds on display at bird exhibitions, birds used in performance shows, birds being transported, birds at zoos, and birds sold by bird dealers and stores. Inspection of breeding facilities would include inspection of aviaries in homes. Regulations that have not yet been written would govern the standards that bird breeders must meet in order to be approved. USDA officials indicate that it would be a nightmare to set standards to meet the needs of each species for appropriate cage space, perches and diet. Bird breeders and all others falling under these regulations would incur costs for licensing and registration and might also incur costs to come into compliance with the regulations. Therefore, all that might be affected by this change in the AWA would be wise to take time to comment on the petition, either by hard copy or the Internet. Bird breeding facilities that are certified under the Model Aviculture Program would do well to mention this program as an alternative to government inspections. Every comment counts. Information on the comment process follows.

Comment Deadline
Comments received on or before March 29, 1999 will be considered. Comments will be received in only two ways: hard copy (on paper via mail) or the Internet. Comments must be submitted as described below. Comments sent to any other address will not be considered.

Comment Address
Please send an original and three copies to:
Docket No. 98-106-1. Regulatory Analysis and Development.
PPD, APHIS, Suite 3CO3,
4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

Please state in your letter that your comments refer to Docket No. 98-106-1. People who want to see the comments that have been submitted can view them at USDA in Washington, DC. Please call ahead to facilitate entrance at (202) 690-2817.

E-mail submitted comments must be done by using a form located on the Internet at http://comments.aphis.usda.gov. Electronically submitted comments need only be submitted once. Comments from the public are available for viewing at the same Internet address. The Internet form requests comments on the following five questions:

Should the definition of "animal" in 9 CFR part 1 be revised to include laboratory rats, laboratory mice and birds, or any of the three?
If the definition of "animal" in 9 CFR part 1 is amended to include laboratory rats, laboratory mice and birds, should Animal Care regulate the care provided to these species in all circumstances covered by the AWA or in certain circumstances, such as use in research, only?
The AWA requires that USDA inspect all research facilities at least once a year. Because of current and anticipated resources for AWA enforcement, any coverage of rats, mice, or birds would result in significantly reduced numbers of inspections for other AWA-regulated entities, such as dog and cat dealers, intermediate handlers and carriers, large and small zoos, and circuses. Should AWA enforcement activities be equal for all species covered by the AWA? If not, what should be the relative priorities?
If the definition of "animal" in 9 CFR part 1 is amended to include laboratory rats, laboratory mice, and birds, how many additional facilities would come under USDA regulation?
Any other comments?

Background On The AWA
The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to set up standards and other requirements governing the humane handling, care, treatment and transportation of certain animals by dealers, research facilities, exhibitors and carriers and handlers. The Secretary has delegated responsibility for administering these regulations to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Definition Of Animal
The petition requests an amendment to the definition of animal to include birds, rats and mice. At present the term animal as defined in the AWA, 9 CFR 1.1, is as follows: "any live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or any other warm-blooded animal, which is being used, or is intended for use for research, teaching, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet. This term excludes: Birds, rats of the genus Rattus and mice of the genus Mus bred for use in research, horses not used for research purposes and other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry used or intended for use for food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber. With respect to a dog, the term means all dogs, including those used for hunting, security or breeding purposes." Since 1972 the AWA regulations have excluded birds and laboratory rats and mice from coverage. Although the AWA has been amended numerous times since its enactment, Congress has never expressed any dissatisfaction with these exclusions.

AWA Exclusions
The USDA excludes rats, mice and birds from the AWA coverage because the USDA believes that the vast majority of rats, mice and birds currently being used in biomedical research are already afforded certain protections and that the cost of extending AWA enforcement to all entities and facilities that handle the rats, mice and birds would be substantial. USDA also believes that this extended coverage would have a substantial impact on the affected entities.

Present Research Oversight
At present, USDA and the Public Health Service (PHS) estimate that at least 90 percent of the rats, mice and birds used in research in the U.S. are provided oversight by the PHS assurance, voluntary accreditation, or both. Since most biomedical research in the U.S. is performed in laboratories funded in part by PHS, the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals covers rats, mice and birds. Furthermore, there is a private sector inspection and accreditation organization, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), that inspects, reviews and accredits laboratories that meet or exceed the animal care standards specified in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, a publication produced by the National Research Council to help institutions care for animals in scientifically, technically and humanely appropriate ways.

For further information on this proposed amendment to the Animal Welfare Act, visit your local library and read the petition in the Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 18, Thursday, Jan. 28, 1999/Proposed Rules on page 4356, or visit the website containing the petition: http://www.APHIS.USDA.gov/ac and click on the site at the upper right of that web page.