Animal Welfare Act (AWA; US)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The Animal Welfare Act (AWA; P.L.89-54; 7 U.S.C. 2131) was created in 1966 and originally called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act. According to the US Department of Agriculture website, the AWA is the only federal law that “regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers.” The text of the AWA may be found HERE.

The original Act was created in response to public concern over the theft of pets for use in laboratory research. As part of that Act, Congress also regulated the care and handling of cats, dogs and other animals used in laboratory research. Over time, revisions to the Act extended its provisions to commercial animal breeding, the commercial transportation of animals and the public exhibition of animals. To engage in these practices, an individual or organization must be registered with and licensed by the United State Department of Agriculture.

The provisions of the AWA are specifically written to apply to live or dead cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, nonhuman primates, guinea pigs, and any other warm-blooded animals the Secretary of Agriculture determines may be used in research, or as a pet or for the purposes of exhibition. The AWA specifically excludes from its purview, birds, laboratory rats (genus Rattus), laboratory mice (genus Mus), farm animals and all cold blooded animals.

The AWA generally applies to two classes of person/organizations dealing with animals: individuals/commercial organizations and research facilities. Individuals generally include breeders. Commercial organizations cover a wide range of facility types where animals are involved in commerce. Research facilities covered by the AWA include federal research and breeding facilities, as well as private research facilities. Other types of facilities include all operations where regulated animals are held such as non-research breeding facilities (e.g., kennels) and zoos (and other organizations involved in the display of animals such as petting zoos and animal parks). The AWA also applies to animal dealers, exhibitors and transporters.

Under the provisions of the AWA, all animal dealers must be licensed and registered by the US Department of Agriculture. All research facilities to which the Act applies must establish an animal welfare, care, and treatment review committee (i.e., the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, IACUC) to create appropriate animal handling protocol and to review animal handling at a research facility. The IACUC is the institution’s animal enforcement mechanism, and the IACUC is also charged with reviewing animal handling and research practices to promote compliance with the AWA.

Violations of the AWA generally involve four types of behaviors. First the mistreatment of animals, including, for example, the existence of poor or dangerous housing conditions, inadequate/dangerous cages and animal enclosures, lack of access to food and water, exposure to weather, exposure to extreme temperatures, inappropriate veterinary care, and inappropriate euthanasia practices. Second, are AWA violations related to the “humane and reasonable” handling of animal requirements in AWA. Amendments to the AWA in 1985 directed attention to extension of humane conditions for animals, requiring exercise and includes specific additional attention to the psychological well-being of primates in research and breeding facilities (including the US’s eight federal primate research centers). Third, these rules relate to facility structure and design. Fourth are rules related to sanitation violations.

Violations of the AWA can be punished in a variety of ways, and punishments for AWA violations depend on the specific section of the AWA that is violated and the number of animals harmed or the public hazards a violation presents. Penalties for a number of offenses range from license suspension, fines of up to $ 10,000 per violation per animal, and a jail term of up to one year. Violations under the dog fighting provision yield penalties of up to $ 15,000 per violation, and some of those violations can result in prison terms between 3 to 5 years. Except for cases involving potential prison sentences, all other cases are civil and administrative/regulatory.

The AWA is enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Enforcement is conducted through the following types of AHPIS responses: (1) 7060 warnings; (2) complaints; (3) decision and orders; (4) pre-settlement agreements and (5) stipulation agreements.

A 7060 report is a letter send by APHIS that is an official warning letter related to alleged violations of the AWA. No fines or penalties are attached to 7060 warnings. The letter warns that further violations may result in a civil fine or criminal penalty. No response to a 7060 is required.

A complaint is also a letter of warning of violation, but requires a response from the person(s) or entity named in the complaint. The person or organization served with a complaint must either agree to the complaint or may request a hearing.

A decision and order (D&O) is issued by an Administrative Law Judge to an individual or organization based on evidence presented to the judge concerning a violation which APHIS seeks to enforce. Those served with a D&O may appeal the decision.

Presettlement and stipulations are agreements to settle a violation through a penalty specified in the agreement. By signing a pre-settlement agreement, offenders waive their right to a hearing on the charges.

The specific content of the AWA can be found HERE.

Further Reading


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