USDA Proposes Updates to Animal Welfare Act Regulations for De Minimis Thresholds and Licensing Exemptions

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Tanya Espinosa   (301) 851-4092 |
Lyndsay Cole   (970) 494-7410

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2016--The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is announcing proposed updates to its regulations for consistency with a 2014 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  APHIS is proposing to exempt business activities that are de minimis – meaning they are of a sufficiently small size, maintain or infrequently exhibit a small number of certain common non-dangerous animals, or owners of household pets that are exhibited occasionally, generate less than a substantial portion of income, and reside exclusively with the owner – from federal licensure and oversight.

“The owners of very small facilities who would be affected by these changes generally provide adequate care for their animals,” said APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea. “This proposal would bring our regulations into line with current statute, and also will allow us to focus our resources where they are most needed.”

Passed by Congress in 1966, the AWA sets general standards for humane care and treatment that must be provided for certain animals that are bred for commercial sale, sold sight unseen (internet sales), exhibited to the public, used in biomedical research, or transported commercially. Businesses licensed under the AWA must provide their animals with adequate housing, sanitation, nutrition, water, and veterinary care. They must also protect their animals from extreme weather and temperatures. The AWA does not apply to coldblooded animals or to farm animals used or exhibited for agricultural purposes.

Business activities will be measured using additional criteria including: number of breeding females maintained, number of animals exhibited, or number of times per year that an animal is exhibited. Owners with animals considered to be dangerous, including big cats and elephants, will not be eligible for an exemption.

The current AWA regulations exempt any person who maintains four or fewer breeding female dogs, cats, and/or small exotic or wild mammals, and who sells only the offspring of those animals born and raised on his or her premises, for pets or exhibition from obtaining a license.  Businesses already exempted under current licensing exemptions would not be affected by this proposed exemption, nor would sales of farm animals be affected if they are sold for the purpose of improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for food or fiber.  These exemptions will remain in place.

The proposed rule will publish in the Federal Register August 4, 2016, and will be available for public comment at!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0059.  It can be viewed online today at APHIS is inviting public comments on this proposed rule.  Consideration will be given to comments received on or before November 2, 2016.  Interested parties may submit comments by either of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal:  Go to!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0059.
  • Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Send your comment to Docket No. APHIS-2014-0059, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.

Supporting documents and any comments we receive on this docket may be viewed at!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0059 or in our reading room, which is located in room 1141 of the USDA South Building, 14th Street and Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC.  Normal reading room hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays.  To be sure someone is there to help you, please call (202) 799-7039 before coming.

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