United Poultry Concerns February 18, 1999
Will Birds, Rats, and Mice Finally Be Covered Under The Animal Welfare Act?
Docket No: 98-106-1

A petition to include birds, rats and mice under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April 1998. On January 28, 1999, USDA announced it is soliciting comments on the petition. The petition requests that the Secretary of Agriculture amend the definition of "animal" in the AWA regulations to remove the current exclusion of birds, rats, and mice. Please request that the petition be granted. Comments must be submitted on or before May 28, 1999.

  • For comments submitted in hard copy send an original and three copies to:

    Docket No. 98-106-1
    Regulatory Analysis & Development, PPD
    Suite 3C03, 4700 River Road, Unit 118
    Riverdale, Maryland 20737-1238

  • To submit your comments electronically, please use a form located at Electronically submitted comments need only be submitted once.

Note: A short letter is fine, but the important thing is that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture hear from the public that the public wants birds, rats and mice to be included in the Animal Welfare Act regulations. One of the arguments USDA has used not to include birds, rats, and mice, is that (they claim) the public has not shown sufficient interest in birds, rats, and mice. We must demolish that argument! This is our chance.
Letter from Karen Davis, Phd. follows:

PH: 757-678-7875; FAX: 5070

February 18, 1999 Docket No. 98-106-1

Docket No. 98-106-1
Regulatory Analysis and Development
APHIS, Suite 3C03
4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale MD 20737-1238

United Poultry Concerns Comments on the Petition for Rulemaking on Animal Welfare Regarding the Regulation of Birds, Rats, and Mice Under the Animal Welfare Act

United Poultry Concerns welcomes this opportunity to provide comments on the Petition for Rulemaking: Animal Welfare. United Poultry Concerns, Inc is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in the state of Maryland. We represent 10,000 members throughout the United States. United Poultry Concerns addresses the treatment of chickens and other domestic fowl in the areas of food production, science, education, entertainment, and human companionship situations.

The Petition for Rulemaking on Animal Welfare requests that the Secretary of Agriculture amend the definition of "animal" in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to remove the current exclusion of birds, rats, and mice from coverage, and to grant such other relief as the Secretary deems just and proper.

The term "animal" is defined in the AWA as "any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warm-blooded animal as the Secretary may determine is being used, or is intended for use, for research, testing, experimentation or exhibition purposes (7 U.S.C. Sec. 2132[g][1994]).

United Poultry Concerns Supports the Petition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has arbitrarily and, we believe, illegally, defined "animal" in such a way as to exclude birds, rats, and mice from regulatory oversight. As a result, there currently is no federal oversight of the use of these animals in research, teaching, exhibits, pet stores, and other areas in which other, similarly sentient animals are afforded protection. Moreover, there is no requirement or incentive for researchers to consider alternatives when experimenting on birds, rats, and mice. In our view, birds, rats, and mice are disproportionately used in cruel, desensitizing, frivolous, and redundant experiments in large part because they can be used with impunity as a result of not being regulated. United Poultry Concerns therefore supports the petition to amend the definition of "animal" in the Animal Welfare Act so as to include birds, rats, and mice. These animals are entitled to the same regulatory protection as is currently accorded to other sentient, warm- blooded vertebrate animals under the Animal Welfare Act.


United Poultry Concerns has repeatedly requested, in writing, that the USDA include birds in its regulations in compliance with the intent of the AWA. In response to our requests, we have received letters from APHIS dated as follows: March 8, 1994; May 6, 1994, June 7, 1994; February 2, 1994; October 7, 1994; and November 17, 1998. The following arguments for denying our request have been made:

(1) The USDA has the right to exclude certain species, such as birds, according to its interpretation of the AWA. It has chosen to exclude birds because:
(a) "[M]ammals such as dogs, cats, primates, and additional warm-blooded animals [?] have captured public sentiment and have resulted in a public outcry against any procedure which they may deem ethically or morally unsound";

(b) "While there have been humane problems with these species [dogs, cats, primates], known problems of birds within the research process have not been brought to our attention."

(c) "Since Federal resources continue to be reduced, and we are experiencing a downsizing of government, we have no plans to regulate birds under the AWA at this time."

(d) "If we were to amend the definition to include birds, we would then be legally required to develop, publish, and enforce standards for birds and inspect all bird facilities. Besides being a tremendous task to develop standards for all the different species of birds used in research, exhibited to the public, and sold into the pet trade, we have neither the staffing nor the funds to handle the regulation of additional species of animals."

(e) "[L]isting birds as AWA-regulated animals would result in a tremendous increase in our Agency's enforcement responsibilities and a commensurate increase in staffing and funds."

(f) "To conduct annual inspections of research facilities that use rats, mice, and birds, we would need to reduce by approximately one third our inspections of other regulated facilities, such as breeders and dealers of dogs and cats, commercial carriers, large and small zoos, and circuses."

United Poultry Concerns' Response to These Arguments

I. Public preference for some animals over other animals that are similarly constituted in regard to sentience should have nothing to do with the issue of regulatory protection. The issue is providing comparable moral and legal protection to all sentient warm-blooded vertebrate species of nonhuman animals. That is the purpose of the Animal Welfare Act: to protect these animals. The USDA should not shift ground from "science" to "public opinion" in order to escape its obligation.
II. A major reason that so many birds (and rats and mice) are currently being used in research, teaching and other areas is that they are ignored by the agency that should protect them. If the USDA-APHIS were to assume its duty to regulate the use of these animals, the number of animals whom the agency would have to oversee would probably shrink as a result. The huge numbers of birds, rats, and mice now being used and requiring federal protection reflect in large part the free-for-all atmosphere created by the USDA's neglect of these animals. Those who have argued against the redefinition and regulatory inclusion of birds, rats, and mice, such as FASEB, the American Psychological Association, and the Federation of Behavioral Psychological and Cognitive Studies, have made it all the more clear as to why these animals should be defined as "animals" and protected as such: the widespread use of these species. They thus argued at a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences on February 2, 1999, that if they had to comply with government regulations, the widespread use--and by implication much unlawful abuse--of these animals would be curtailed.

Exactly. An important point here is that fear of government regulation amounts to a confession on the part of these people that they regularly abuse birds, rats, and mice according to criteria contained in the Animal Welfare Act; they therefore fear accountability. Another point is that the granting of the petition would very likely reduce the number of animals being used, because what is currently being done to many birds, rats, and mice could no longer be done if the law were enforced. By regulating the use of birds, rats, and mice, the USDA would, if it did its job, effectively reduce the number of animals it had to regulate and protect.

III. In this regard, a primary argument of the petition is that if it is granted, an incentive will arise to develop and adopt nonanimal methodologies in laboratories and classrooms. The petition argues that because the USDA is not fulfilling its obligation to protect birds, rats, and mice under the AWA, researchers using alternatives, educators, organizations working to promote nonanimal alternatives, and manufacturers who would otherwise develop and merchandise nonanimal alternatives, are being hindered or injured by the failure of the government to do its job. Once again, arguments used by the USDA to avoid regulating birds, rats, and mice actually argue in favor of the regulation the petition seeks.
IV. It is not true that no known cases of inhumane treatment of birds within the research process have been brought to the USDA's attention. A primary reason that United Poultry Concerns supports the petition is that our effort to get the USDA-APHIS to investigate allegations of bird abuse has repeatedly been frustrated by APHIS's insistence that it has no regulatory authority to investigate complaints involving birds.

For example, in 1992, United Poultry Concerns sought unsuccessfully to get the USDA-APHIS to assist our investigation of an experiment on hens at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. The experiment consisted of the insertion of non-gas-permeable red plastic contact lenses into the eyes of several thousand hens as a student senior project. The experiment was so demonstrably cruel and unregulated that a student employee and a full-time employee in the Cal Poly poultry unit wrote separate letters to animal protection organizations begging for help. The hens were subjected to gross cruelty, which caused them to develop infected corneas, to go blind, and try to pick the lenses out of their eyes with their claws. Many members of the university suffered emotionally as a result of having to witness the suffering of the hens, the callous attitude of the principal researcher Robert Spiller, and the lack of interest or intervention on the part of any university or government official.

The refusal of the USDA to regulate the treatment of birds in teaching and research amounts to an illegal and immoral abandonment of these birds to the callousness of people whose very callousness is encouraged by the lack of regulation, while subjecting compassionate and morally responsive people to emotional suffering and to a justified sense of frustration that their government will not intervene to protect nonhuman animals against the worst forms of cruelty.

The contact lens experiment is one of many cases that have been brought to the attention of United Poultry Concerns since 1990. Here is another example: in 1997, we received a complaint from two students at a community college in Colorado where a teacher had students sticking the heads of fully conscious chickens into a container filled with gas to asphyxiate them in what was described in the course curriculum as an embalming experiment. The chickens struggled, choked, and wouldn't die. The teacher, we learned from investigation, conducts this experiment year after year. School administrators normally will not take action if they have no government mandate to act, while teachers who cannot regulate their own moral conduct are encouraged by the lack of sanctions. Students are cynically taught that their school, with the support of the federal government, turns a blind and indifferent eye to animal cruelty in the classroom.

By continuing to refuse to regulate birds, rats, and mice, the USDA is ignoring the will of the majority of society as reflected in the Animal Welfare Act. The majority of citizens mistakenly assume that the federal government will take appropriate action. A single experience such as those mentioned above serves as a rude awakening. By refusing to define birds as animals in order to avoid regulating their use, the U.S. Department of Agriculture betrays not only the birds but society.

V. Birds should not be excluded from the definition of "animal" and thereby excluded from the protection of the Animal Welfare Act. Birds are animals. Birds have been shown to have complex cognitive capabilities. They have been shown to experience pain, fear, bodily injury, and other forms of suffering comparable to the experience documented in dogs, cats, and primates. According to Lesley Rogers, an avian physiologist and the author of The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken (1995), "it is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates" (p. 217). In a letter to United Poultry Concerns dated April 28, 1996, Dr. Roger wrote: "I did not know that the US Animal Welfare Act excludes birds, and I am very surprised to hear so. . . .. The assumption that birds are not as highly evolved as mammals is incorrect."

Birds have cognitive capacity, nociceptors and all the other apparatus of feeling and intelligence characterized in dogs, cats, and primates. As Michael Gentle states in "Pain In Birds" (Animal Welfare 1992, 1:235-247):

The close similarity between birds and mammals in their physiological and behavioural responses to painful stimuli would argue for a comparable sensory and emotional experience. . . . Birds do . . . have the physiological, biochemical and anatomical mechanisms similar to those that in the human are known to be correlated with painful experiences. With regard to animal welfare and pain in birds, it is clearly essential that the ethical considerations normally afforded to mammals should also be afforded to birds. (243)
If segments of the public are ignorant of the feelings and intelligence of birds, the USDA bears some of the major responsibility for this ignorance and the perpetuation of it.

A primary goal of the petition is to upgrade the moral status of birds in society and to challenge the misconception that birds do not suffer or that their suffering doesn't matter. It is equally important that researchers, teachers, students, and others who use birds be given a clear message to dispel their ignorance as an excuse for abuse. It is time to encourage those who still use birds and other sentient beings to invest their resources in nonanimal alternatives. The do-nothing policy on the part of the USDA has created a vacuum filled by despicable attitudes and behaviors in many areas of teaching and research. People with a conscience and compassion for other forms of life do not want their government acting as shield to protect cruel and brutal treatment of birds and other sentient creatures under the cloak of "science," "education," and ignorance. It is inappropriate, in any event, for the USDA to invoke public or professional ignorance and prejudice as an excuse for refusing to regulate the treatment of birds, rats, and mice in accordance with the intent of the Animal Welfare Act. As citizens and taxpayers, we expect our government to embody the will of society at its most progressive. In this capacity, United Poultry Concerns requests the U.S. Department of Agriculture to amend the definition of "animal" in the Animal Welfare regulations to include birds, rats, and mice, and to regulate the use of these animals according to the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this petition and look forward to its success.


Karen Davis, PhD
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
Ph: 757-678-7875; fax: 5070
February 18, 1999