Action Alert: USDA Proposes Changes to Animal Welfare Act Regulations

Under current law, most small-scale animal breeders are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act because they sell their animals directly to individual purchasers and are therefore classified as “retail pet stores.” The USDA has proposed a rule, however, that would narrow the definition of retail pet store so that it only applies to places where the buyer physically comes to the property for each and every pet sold, such as a traditional brick-and-mortar pet store.

Livestock animals are excluded from the current and proposed regulations as long as they are used for food or fiber. However, other types of animals that are frequently found on farms, such as dogs, cats, and rabbits, are covered by the regulations. Often, farmers and 4-H children breed and sell these animals both for working purposes and as pets.

Under the proposed rule, unless otherwise exempted, if you have 5 or more breeding females and sell even one pet animal without the buyer coming to your property, you would be required to get a license from the USDA and comply with the federal Animal Welfare Act. You can read the full list of exemptions at pages 12-14.

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was designed for large commercial breeders, where animals are bred and raised to be sold wholesale. The regulations were not designed for small part-time breeders, mom and pop kennels, or on-farm operations. The AWA includes requirements for identification of animals and recordkeeping, as well as standards on every aspect of the animals’ care: Facilities and operations (including space, structure and construction, waste disposal, heating, ventilation, lighting, and interior surface requirements for indoor and outdoor primary enclosures and housing facilities); animal health and husbandry (including requirements for veterinary care, sanitation and feeding, watering, and separation of animals); and transportation (including specifications for primary enclosures, primary conveyances, terminal facilities, and feeding, watering, care, and handling of animals in transit).

USDA’s rationale for requiring more people to get licenses is the rise in internet sales. Yet USDA itself admits that there is no evidence that animals sold over the internet have higher rates of illnesses or other problems than those sold in brick-and-mortar pet stores.

TAKE ACTION! The deadline for submitting comments is August 15, 2012.