USDA considers calling birds “animals”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1999:
WASHINGTON D.C.––The USDA
on January 28 announced that it will take
comments until March 29, 1999 on a petition
from United Poultry Concerns to amend the
definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare
Act enforcement regulations to remove the
current exclusion of birds, rats, and mice.
“A short letter is fine,” commented
UPC founder and president Karen Davis,
“but the important thing is that the USDA
hears from the public that we want birds,
rats, and mice to be included in the AWA
The opening of the comment period
marks the farthest advance yet toward removing
the exclusion, made initially because
animal experimenters claimed the cost of
complying with AWA regulations in handling
birds, rats, and mice would be prohibitive.
Although the present petition and
comment period cover rats and mice as well
as birds, Davis has previously petitioned
unsuccessfully on behalf of birds at least six
times since 1994.
“The following arguments for
denying our request have been made,” Davis
outlined, quoting USDA correspondence:
“‘Mammals 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. While there have been
humane problems with these species, known
problems of birds within the research process
[covered by the Animal Welfare Act] have
not been brought to our attention. 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,’” unless forced
to do so by public or political pressure.
“‘If we were to amend the definition
to include birds,’” Davis continued, further
citing USDA responses, “‘we would be
legally required to develop, publish, and
enforce standards for birds and inspect all
bird facilities,’” which “‘would result in a
tremendous increase in our enforcement
Under the current USDA-APHIS
budget, Davis said the USDA had told her,
“‘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.’”
Responded Davis, “Public preference for some animals
over others who are similarly sentient should have nothing
to do with the issue of regulatory protection. The USDA
should not shift ground from science to public opinion to
escape its obligations.”
Further, Davis charged, “A major reason why so
many birds, rats, and mice are currently used in research,”
amounting to more than 90% of the estimated totals, based on
data from the few facilities which report on all species regardless
of AWA status, “is that they are ignored by the agency
which should protect them.”
Davis cited testimony as recent as February 2, 1999
from spokespersons for the American Psychological
Association and the Federation of Behavioral Psychological
and Cognitive Studies, who argued that research involving
birds, rats, and mice would be inhibited if they had to meet
This, Davis said, “amounts to a confession on the
part of these people that they regularly abuse birds, rats, and
mice, according to AWA criteria. They fear accountability.”
Davis also reminded the USDA that there has in fact
been outcry over documented instances of alleged abuse of
birds in research, citing cases from 1990 and 1997.
Comments may be submitted to Docket #98-106-1,
Regulatory Analysis & Development, PPD, Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service, Suite 3C03, 4700 River Road, Unit
118, Riverdale, Maryland 20737-1238; or via e-mail c/o Jerry
DePoyster, Senior Veterinary Medical Officer, USDA/APHIS,
Routine agricultural procedures are exempted from
coverage by the AWA, but extending protection to birds would
set standards for poultry care and a precedent for federally regulating
such care that has the poultry industry running scared.
The Bill Clinton/Albert Gore White House, known
for close ties to the Tyson poultry empire, is unlikely to back
the proposed AWA regulatory change, but poultry trade lobbyists
are reportedly preparing to fight it anyway.
A more immediate threat to business as usual, however,
comes from a variety of legislative efforts to address
manure contamination of waterways and groundwater.
Responding to both perceived threats, Tyson Foods
Inc. spokesperson Archie Schaffer III on January 28 announced
the merger of the poultry trade groups in Arkansas, Oklahoma,
and Missouri into a larger organization, The Poultry Federation
Inc., headed by executive vice president Randall A. Wyatt.
“Ninety percent of the poultry production in the states
of Missouri and Oklahoma were owned and operated by companies
based in Arkansas or which have a big presence in
Arkansas,” Schaffer explained.
Approximately 9.5 billion chickens and turkeys are
raised and slaughtered each year in the U.S., protected by no
humane legislation whatever.
European Parliament vote
Further giving the poultry industry the jitters, the
European Parliament on January 27, 1999 “voted in favor of
phasing out battery cages for egg-laying hens throughout
Europe,” the World Animal Net electronic news service reported.
The margin was 228 for the proposed 10-year phase-out,
with 152 opposed and 15 abstentions.
There are presently about 270 million egg-laying
hens in Europe, of whom more than 90% are battery-caged.
“The historic vote, an amendment saying that the use
of battery cages shall be prohibited from January 1, 2009, was
passed by a significant majority of the Members of the EU,”
and represented a stronger position than was previously taken
by the European Commission, which had simply proposed “to
increase the space allowance, without getting rid of cages,”
“The Commission is the ‘government administration’
of the EU,” WAN explained. “But we are not quite there yet,”
WAN added. “The biggest obstacle will be the EU Council of
Ministers, which is in this case the collective body of Ministers
of Agriculture from each of the 15 EU countries. The Council
is the EU’s principle decision-making body. They have the
final say, and pressure on national governments will be needed
to make them take a position in favor of a ban. The EU is consulted,
but does not have legilsative power in the same way as
a national Parliament. It is most important for groups throughout
Europe to continue campaigning and lobbying for this ban
to be adopted,” WAN emphasized.
“The EU decision could have repercussions for South
Africa, which is on the verge of signing a trade agreement with
the EU,” the Cape Town Cape Argus reported on February 15.
Said Cape Town animal rights activist Louise van der
Merwe, “There are 15 million hens in battery cages in South
Africa, and if the country wants to be seen as part of the
European community, it must keep up with developments.”
Momentum toward abolishing battery caging in
Europe has been building since 1988, when Sweden led the
way with legislation pushed by popular children’s author, animal
activist, and politician Astrid Lindgren.
The Swedish initiative was emulated in Switzerland
and has broad support in Britain, but the British government
has argued that unless the whole EU abolishes battery caging,
British attempts to do so would be thwarted by imports of eggs
produced by battery-caged hens on the European mainland.
Under the terms of EU membership and of the General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, Britain could not exclude
imports of eggs from battery-caged hens, because regulating
how a commodity is produced would be a “process standard.”
Process standards are banned by the trade agreements
because historically they have been used to protect obsolete
industrial practices from foreign competition.
Australian Capital Territory legislation to ban battery
caging, introduced by Green Party representatives, was passed
in September 1997, but required ratification by all states of
Australia, the Northern Territories, and the Commonwealth of
Australia in order to take effect. Two states, South Australia and
Victoria, have withheld ratification.
Exasperated after three years of unsuccessful lobbying,
the Royal SPCA and Animals Australia, representing about 40
member organizations, on February 9 declared their intent to
provoke what RSPCA president Hugh Wirth termed “a consumer-led
revolution on behalf of these unfortunate chooks,”
about 10.5 million of whom are battery-caged in Australia.
Wirth said the poultry industry had threatened the
humane organizations with legal action if they aired TV ads urging
consumers to choose eggs from free-range hens. According
to Wirth, an RSPCA system of accrediting free range egg producers
had increased free-range egg sales 300% in 12 months.
An opinion poll released by Animals Australia on
January 25, 1999 found that 79% of respondents were concerned
about the humane aspects of battery caging, 65% supported the
proposed ban, 66% found egg labels misleading because terms
such as “Farm Fresh” imply that the hens enjoy better conditions
than they do, and 81% were prepared to pay more for their eggs
if battery caging was abolished.
Broilers, foie gras
The anti-battery cage campaigns in Europe have spilled
over into general concern for poultry welfare.
The European Union Scientific Committee on Animal
Health and Animal Welfare on December 16, 1998 accepted a
93-page report on Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras
in Ducks and Geese, which concluded that, “Forced feeding as it
is currently practiced is prejudicial to the wellbeing of birds.”
The ducks and geese used in foie gras p r o d u c t i o n – –
which has reportedly tripled since 1990––are obliged to overeat
by means of a pipe thrust down their throats. Grain is then
poured directly into their stomachs. This produces an abnormally
enlarged liver, from which foie gras is processed.
An August 1998 report by the British government’s
own Farm Animal Welfare Council meanwhile recommended
phase-outs of beak trimming, claw removal, and other forms of
mutilation of birds to reduce their chances of injuring each other
when confined in close quarters. The report was also critical of
the feeding regimen of broiler chickens.