The industry warns that new federal rules aimed at protecting the well-being of these animals can put breeders and retailers at risk.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a rule earlier in the year establishing new standards governing the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of captive birds not bred for use in research.
The regulation is intended for dealers and breeders of covered animals, including birds (except those bred for research). It affects research facilities, exhibitors, operators of auction sales, carriers, and intermediate handlers.
The Bird Enjoyment and Advantage Koalition (BEAK) warned that regulations affecting bird breeders and retailers “are an important factor that can impact bird availability.”
“The repercussions are yet to be seen. We do not know how many people will choose to exit the business due to the new regulations, and if it will result in larger businesses and fewer mom-and-pops,” David García from the Organization of Professional Aviculturists (OPA) told GlobalPETS.
García also pointed out that this can potentially impact shipping companies as well. “Delta Airlines is the largest shipper of birds around the United States, and we are waiting to see how they react to the regulations or if they get out of the bird shipping business altogether.”
What does the regulation say?
A 2002 amendment to the definition of animals in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) placed birds not bred for research purposes under the protection of the act. Under this, standards for the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of certain animals were to be accounted for.
However, the lack of clarity and standardization after a series of lawsuits led US officials to issue a final rule on 21 February 2023, establishing specific regulatory standards to birds.
The regulations define “adequate” or “sufficient” conditions for bird care covering 3 categories:
- Housing facilities must cater to water, power, food, bedding, temperature, and humidity for the bird’s optimum physical and psychological well-being.
- Animal health and husbandry outlines the diet and cleanliness requirements for birds’ environments.
- Transportation standards addresses ideal conditions for transporting live birds, from their handling requirements to dietary, climate, and environmental factors, when cared for by carriers and intermediate handlers.
When the new rules are fully implemented by August 2023, breeders and retailers must keep records tracking their produce, purchase, and sales.
“US-based aviculture has been lax on recordkeeping, now breeders and brokers are going to have to make a concerted effort to track what they produce, where it goes, and who is buying it,” reminded García.
The benefits of regulation may only be seen in the long term, such as in the case of husbandry in aviculture, where recordkeeping is helpful. “In the short term, the drawbacks are obvious,” Garcia stressed.
The regulations will be enforced by the local APHIS offices. “It appears to me that USDA has made some effort to track down breeders who will be subject to their regulations by looking at online postings of birds for sale, but we need to wait and see how vigorously they will actually enforce,” said García.
Penalties for failure to comply would be fines and revocation of licenses.
The case of the parrots
Parrots are currently excluded from the USDA pet bird list, which according to OPA’s David García, means that parrot species not on that list are more regulated than other species.
“Individuals breeding, for example, Vasa parrots, will need to be licensed even if they only breed one specimen a year. Likewise, a pet store cannot sell a Vasa parrot without a USDA license.”
The industry believes this “will likely” push individuals away from breeding some of the rare parrot species in the US.
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