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USDA reg on rats, mice, and birds delayed

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This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by 12 ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including Ornithology Exchange and the Ornithological Council!


The original regulations implementing the Animal Welfare Act expressly excluded rats, mice, and birds. After litigation in 2000, the USDA agreed to change its regulations to include rats, mice, and birds. However, before the USDA could promulgate regulations pertaining to rats, mice, and birds, the U.S. Congress, by way of a provision in the 2002 Farm Bill codified the exclusion of rats, mice, and birds. Unfortunately, a typographical error in the final legislation had the effect of excluding ONLY birds bred for use in research.** The Ornithological Council worked diligently to have the Congress correct this error and nearly succeeded but our efforts were thwarted by a very powerful animal rights organization.


The USDA has been working on regulations to implement this new definition for several years. In 2004, the USDA APHIS Animal Care program published an advance notice of public rulemaking, asking for "comments from the public to help determine how we should regulate the care and use of those animals."


The OC filed comments, suggesting, among other things, that given the number of wild bird

species, the enormous variation among species, and the lack of experience and information pertaining

to the keeping of most species in captivity that regulations would necessarily have to be very flexible

and nonspecific. Further, that inspection of field sites was unrealistic at best given that the USDA does not have enough inspectors, much less inspectors knowledgeable in field biology, to inspect field sites

and that it would be unreasonable to expect wildlife biologists to bear the costs of such inspections.


Those comments and other information were considered by the USDA when writing the new regulations, which were expected to be released by the end of 2011.


However, at a conference on Animal Welfare Act compliance in the context of wildlife biology, organized by OC and the American Society of Mammalogists (26-28 October 2011; see http://mysite.verizon.net/iacuc101/), USDA officials announced that the proposed regulation, which was still under review within the USDA,would be delayed due to concerns about the ability of the agency to implement the regulation given the need for a very substantial increase in the number of USDA inspectors at a time when agency budgets are shrinking.


It is not known when the regulations will be published for comment.




** Lest anyone conclude that the Ornithological Council or its member societies oppose the oversight of wild birds studied in research, we refer you to the introductory material in our Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research:




and specifically this text:


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 this peer-reviewed Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research. Our objection to the inclusion of birds in the Animal Welfare Act regulations is 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 below, 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.

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This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by 12 ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including Ornithology Exchange and the Ornithological Council!


An update from APHIS Animal Care dated 30 December 2011:



Greetings all,

I trust this finds you all happy and healthy and ready to welcome 2012.

Attached (and embedded in the text of this email) is our stakeholder announcement providing a status update on the the Rats, Mice, Birds Proposed Regulation implementing the amendment to the Animal Welfare Act to provide coverage for birds, rats, and mice, not bred for use in research.

Please feel free to pass this information along to those who may not have received it. This stakeholder mailing list has been compiled over time through my meetings and conversations with many of you over the last two years. It is by no means comprehensive, so please let me know if someone you think should have received this notice did not.

As always, if you have any questions for me or would like to share any of your concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Our budget cuts may limit my ability to catch up with you in person this upcoming year, but I would still love to hear from you! And you know where to find me, if you're ever in the lovely DC area.

Take care, and enjoy the New Year,



Stakeholder Announcement: Status of Proposed Rule Establishing Regulations and Standards for Rats, Mice, and Birds under the Animal Welfare Act

US Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care Program

December 2011

Many Animal Care stakeholders have been following the progress of the program’s efforts to draft a proposed rule that would establish new regulations and standards for the humane handling, care, treatment and transportation of rats, mice and birds, other than those bred for research, under the Animal Welfare Act. Since our last update, Animal Care has initiated some revisions to the draft document that will extend the time it takes to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register. The program is currently in the process of clarifying how we plan to implement the regulation upon finalization, particularly those aspects pertaining to birds. Animal Care is committed tomoving this regulation forward, but only with enforcement guidelines that are feasible and in alignment with existing federal resources. To that end, we would like to share with you our current efforts to create an implementation approach that will be comprehensive and effective, including:

  • Determining the scope of this regulation. This includes identifying the number of entities covered by the rule and accounting for the wide variation in facilities and the number and types of avian species. Our research indicates there may be as many as 10,000 additional regulated facilities once birds are included. In addition to numbers of entities, we must determine what circumstances, if any, would qualify an entity as exempt from regulation.
  • Assessing the potential need for additional Animal Care personnel and training resources. We expect this regulation to substantially increase inspector workloads as well as impact other APHIS programs that assist us in implementation of the AWA. We must determine the best way to enforce this regulation while still providing adequate resources for all AWA enforcement activities.
  • Accounting for the additional resources and training avian entities may require for regulatory compliance. For example, veterinary care is essential to the AWA regulations, but our research has indicated many avian entities may have limited access to veterinarians trained to care for avian species.
  • Determining where our regulatory authority overlaps with other federal agencies and state governments. Animal Care is making every effort to collaborate with state and federal agencies that may already work with regulated facilities in order to prevent duplicate inspections and ensure the most efficient allocation of resources.

We are working with a diverse group of stakeholders, including aviculturists, zoos and aquariums, field and bench-side researchers, conservationists, avian veterinarians, veterinary associations, federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, animal welfare organizations, avian trainers, and the general public, to determine the best way to address these issues. Throughout this process, we will continue to conduct outreach to update our stakeholders on the status of the regulation.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our Avian Specialist Dr. Jeleen Briscoe: Johanna.Briscoe@aphis.usda.gov.

For more information about the decision to include birds under Animal Welfare Act regulations, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_welfare/2011/FS_QArmb.pdf.

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