Efforts by the Department of Agriculture to regulate rats, mice, and birds under the Animal Welfare Act were delayed for a second year by a provision in the 2002 agriculture appropriations bill that prohibits the department from issuing a final rule on the matter. The provision does not prevent public comment from being collected on the proposed rule, however.
An estimated 23 million rats and mice are used for research annually. But because they are not defined as "animals" in the welfare act, birds, rats, and mice are excluded from federal standards for veterinary care and animal husbandry. These standards include requirements for handling, housing, feeding, and veterinary care.
In September 2000, the USDA made a controversial decision to settle a lawsuit with an animal rights group, agreeing to begin rule making to extend federal regulations to include these animals (see JAVMA, Dec. 1, 2000, page 1607).
However, a last-minute amendment to the 2001 agriculture appropriations bill forbade the USDA from spending funds that fiscal year on any rule-making process that changes the definition of "animal" in the Animal Welfare Act. A similarly worded prohibition was included the 2002 appropriations bill, which was signed by President Bush in November 2001.