by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-month series of blogs written by Barry from Canada and, from her perch at our Sacramento headquarters in Northern California, Senior Program Associate Monica Engebretson. Their “blog-off” is part of Born Free USA’s celebration of National Bird Day, which every year falls on Jan. 5.)
Most people are surprised to learn that captive exotic birds commonly sold in the pet trade or used for other entertainment purposes do not have specific protections under the Federal Animal Welfare Act, which mandates that certain animal facilities comply with licensing, inspection and care requirements.
They are supposed to be protected, but they aren’t. Not yet.
You see, birds should have been included under the act from its inception in 1966, but in 1972 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated regulations to enforce the act, it rather arbitrarily excluded birds (as well as rats, horses and farmed animals) from the definition of “animal.”
Thirty years later, the passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (2002 Farm Bill) amended the AWA’s definition of animal to include rats, mice and birds — with the exception of those bred for use in research. Now more than nine years later, the USDA has yet to even issue draft regulations to implement the act for birds (or rats and mice).
What gives, USDA?
It’s not like your office wasn’t spoon-fed detailed suggested regulations in 2004 by our organization and more than 22 other animal protection groups that would provide basic but meaningful protections for birds. Feel free to take what we wrote, stick the USDA’s name on it and publish it for public comment. Really. Plagiarize away. I don’t care. I just want the job done, for the birds’ sake. (For the record, I care about the rats and mice too — but this blog is for the birds).
I’m not the only one who thinks protections for birds under the AWA are long overdue.
Last year, the Avian Welfare Coalition commissioned a public opinion poll conducted by the Humane Research Council that asked randomly selected members of the general public their opinion about whether the Animal Welfare Act should require minimum standards for parrots in any of the following situations: pet shops, breeding facilities/“bird mills,” and in homes where they are kept as pets.
The answer to this question was a resounding “yes,” with a strong majority of U.S. adults believing that parrots should be covered under that Animal Welfare Act in all situations.
A very high 83 percent of respondents said they believe this should be the case in breeding facilities or “bird mills,” while nearly the same amount (80 percent) said parrots in pet shops should be covered under the AWA’s standards of care. Support was lower, but still high (60 percent) for applying AWA’s minimum standards to parrots kept in homes as pets.
(Note: The AWA regulations never extend to private homes, but the response to the question demonstrates the level of concern the public has about the welfare of all captive parrots.)
The bottom line is birds should never have been excluded from the AWA in the first place and regulations to implement their protection under the act are long overdue. Period.