APHIS considers stricter animal welfare licensing

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Rules proposed in August would make researchers and animal dealers provide more proof they comply with federal animal welfare laws to stay licensed to work with certain animals.

The federal licenses for those animal handlers and caregivers—along with exhibitors, auction operators, and carriers—would implement expiration dates and renewal requirements under the proposal from the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. While gaining a license already requires passing an APHIS inspection, licensees today need only to submit annual renewal forms and license fees, and APHIS information indicates the regulations lack any requirements that the licensees demonstrate compliance with welfare regulations.

"The current regulations also do not require a licensee to demonstrate compliance when the licensee makes any subsequent changes to his or her animals or facilities, including noteworthy changes in the number or type of animals used in regulated activity," agency officials said in a Federal Register notice.

That notice is available under docket number APHIS-2017-0062. APHIS is accepting comments through Oct. 23.

The Animal Welfare Act licensing requirements apply to people and businesses working with mammals intended for use in research, testing, experimentation, or exhibitions or as pets. It exempts retail pet stores that do not sell to AWA-licensed businesses as well as people who do not trade in wild animals and do not receive more than $500 from animal sales in a year.

For those covered by the regulations, APHIS officials are considering setting license durations of three to five years, which would require that the agency reinspect the licensee's animals, property, buildings, and vehicles to gain renewal. While applicants now have three chances to pass inspections, that would decline to two under the proposed changes.

Once licensed, animal holders and caregivers also will need to show they still comply with regulations following substantial changes in their numbers, types, or locations of animals covered under Animal Welfare Act regulations.

The agency is considering eliminating the application and annual license fees and assessing fees only when licenses are issued.

APHIS also is considering closing a loophole that lets people and companies become licensed as exhibitors, even though they do not exhibit their animals, to circumvent state restrictions that are intended to limit ownership of exotic and wild animals but allow ownership by AWA-licensed exhibitors.

And agency officials are considering preventing people or companies with suspended or revoked AWA licenses from working in other AWA-regulated activities or using other names to apply for new licenses.

Other rule changes could create a more efficient process for denying a license application or suspending or revoking an existing license.

Related JAVMA content:

APHIS pulls welfare information from website (April 1, 2017)

50 years later, animal welfare act is a work in progress (Oct. 1, 2016)