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  • USDA releases final rule for regulations of birds under the Animal Welfare Act

    Laura Bies
    • Author: Laura Bies

      The new rule sets housing and care standard for birds other than those bred specifically for use in research. 

    The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has released a long-awaited final rule amending the Animal Welfare Act regulations and establish new standards governing the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of birds. The new rule applies to birds not bred for use in research; all birds bred for research are exempt from regulation under the AWA.

    Read more about the context of this regulation and previous agency actions here.

    In late 2020, the Ornithological Council testified during a public hearing on the proposed regulation, and also submitted detailed written comments.  In that testimony, the OC asked that the forthcoming regulation (1) exclude wild birds studied in the wild from regulation; (2) exclude any offspring of non-exempt birds that breed in captivity from regulation; (3) consult with experts regarding housing and husbandry standards; and (4) exempt field surgery from regulation. 

    According to the rule, “field studies that do not materially alter the birds, such as observational studies, are not covered under the AWA regulations. Any study that involves an invasive procedure, harms, or materially alters the behavior of an animal under study is not considered a field study under the definition of that term and is covered by the regulations.” A recent publication from APHIS helps to define ‘field studies,’ which are exempt from regulation under the AWA.

    Under the AWA, “major operative procedure” means any surgical intervention that penetrates and exposes a body cavity or any procedure which produces permanent impairment of physical or physiological functions. Such procedures must, under the AWA’s implementing regulations, be conducted only in facilities intended for that purpose which shall be operated and maintained for that purpose. The rule provides an exception for surgery on birds, provided that such activities are conducted in accordance with current established veterinary medical procedures. In addition, “operative procedures conducted at field sites need not be performed in dedicated facilities but must be performed using aseptic procedures.”

    This rule is effective March 23, 2023. For current AWA licensees and registrants, this rule is applicable August 21, 2023. For new AWA licensees and registrants, this rule is applicable February 21, 2024.

    NOTE: The Ornithological Council believes strongly that birds, both wild and captive-bred, should be treated humanely, both in the laboratory and in research conducted in the wild. It is for this reason that we publish the peer-reviewed Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research. Our concerns with inclusion of birds in the Animal Welfare Act regulations are based solely on the fact that it is likely to impose additional burdens on research without producing an improvement in the humane treatment of birds, because, as explained above, this research is already regulated under the Health Research Extension Act of 1985, which makes the Animal Act applicable to all vertebrates. We object only to duplicative and potentially conflicting sets of regulations and burdensome procedural compliance, without contributing to the humane treatment of birds in research.

    About the Ornithological Council

    The Ornithological Council is a consortium of scientific societies of ornithologists; these societies span the Western Hemisphere and the research conducted by their members spans the globe. Their cumulative expertise comprises the knowledge that is fundamental and essential to science-based bird conservation and management.  The Ornithological Council is financially supported by our member societies and the individual ornithologists who value our work. If the OC’s resources are valuable to you, please consider joining one of our member societies or donating directly at Birdnet.org. Thank you for your support!

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