APHIS Dusts Off Animal Handling Contingency Planning Rules

Today, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued advance notice that, on June 25, 2021, the agency will publish notice in the Federal Register of its intention to implement regulations, adopted in 2012, that require entities subject to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to have contingency plans for handling animals in the event of possible emergencies or disasters.  The rules, which had been prompted by events during the 2005 hurricane season, had been stayed by APHIS since July 31, 2013 based on claims by small entities that these regulatory requirements were excessive.

The original rules apply to research facilities, dealers, exhibitors, intermediate handlers, and carriers of animals regulated under the AWA.  The rules set out a framework for contingency plans which must include the following elements:

• Identify common emergencies such as electrical outages, faulty HVAC systems, fires, animal escapes, and natural disasters the facility is most likely to experience.

• Outline specific tasks required to be carried out in response to the identified emergencies including, but not limited to, specific animal evacuation plans or shelter-in-place plans and provisions for providing backup sources of food and water as well as sanitation, ventilation, bedding, veterinary care, etc.

• Identify a chain of command and who (by name or by position title) will be responsible for fulfilling these tasks.

• Address how response and recovery will be handled in terms of materials, resources, and training needed.

In its June 24 advance notice, APHIS indicated that the concerns that led to the stay of the original rule are no longer present in view of the de minimis exemptions to licensure that the agency had issued in 2018.  Those exemptions applied to 525 licensees who APHIS notified of their eligibility for exemption.  259 such licensees had canceled their licenses as of December 2020.  In addition, the 2021 Congressional Appropriations Act (Pub. L. No. 116-260) directed APHIS to propose a lifting of the stay of the rules within 180 days of the passage of that Act.

The June 24 advance notice proposed to make additional changes (“minor” according to APHIS) to the contingency plan regulations along the following lines:

      • Contingency plans must be created within 180 days after the effective date of the final regulations.
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      • Personnel must be trained within 60 days after the contingency plan is put into place.
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      • Removing an “extraneous reference” to additional requirements for marine mammals.
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      • Removing the requirement that facilities, as well as dealers, exhibitors, intermediate handlers and carriers document their personnel’s participate in trainings.
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      • Creation of an optional form that may be used to develop and document a contingency plan.

As to the proposed form, APHIS noted that entities that already have contingency plans in place may use those.  In particular, Public Health Service-funded research facilities and Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions have already adopted contingency plans and would not need to adopt the template.

APHIS stated that it will consider all comments received on this proposal on or before August 24, 2021.